The Grapes of Wrath
The majority of people have not read John Steinbeck's iconic "The Grapes of Wrath" since it was assigned to us in school. This great piece of literature introduced America to an extraordinary family of 'Okies" and gained the author a Pulitzer Prize.
Luckily, there are talented individuals like Frank Galati who have adapted it for the stage; and more so, sophisticated playhouses to present it for those who have forgotten the importance of this classic work. Playing through May 17, A Noise Within's production of "The Grapes of Wrath" takes the audience on an important journey through one of America's most historical time periods.
"The Grapes of Wrath" tells the story of the Joad family, a poor Oklahoma clan who feel they are left with no choice but to travel across the country in search of a better life. Driven from their home because of drought and economic hardships, they hope to find farm work they hear is abundant in the California orange groves.
The family of eleven, along with an ex-preacher, piles into a single car and head out with little more than the clothes on their backs and a few dollars in their pockets. They endure many losses along the way; family members, possessions, even their dignity, but in the most hopeless of situations they manage to keep their heads high and trek on.
Michael Michetti directs a talented cast of actors who bring the story to life. Steve Coombs takes on the part of Tommy Joad, a young man recently out of jail and the story's protagonist. Coombs does a fantastic job of presenting us with a character that is struggling with his unfortunate circumstance and is constantly fighting his own frustration and rage. His emotional portrayal of Tommy captures the essence of desperation so many people felt during this time.
Playing Rose of Sharon is talented Lili Fuller, who takes on the difficult role of interpreting the pregnant, and abandoned, teenage sister. Fuller succeeds in conquering the extreme heartache her character endures throughout the journey, and makes the audience feel her pain along with her.
Deborah Strang plays Ma Joad, a durable character that manages to hold her family together through unimaginable odds. She leads the group of actors with strength, dignity and a poetic sadness that will touch your heart. She truly is the glue holding the production together.
Matt Gottlieb triumphs as the ex-preacher, Jim Casy. His stoic speeches offer some of the show's most profound moments. He speaks candidly and from the heart, and always without pretense.
The stellar cast is rounded out by Lindsey Ginter (Pa Joad), Andrew Hellenthal (Al Joad), Jill Hill (Grandma Joad), Josh Clark (Uncle John Joad), Jesse Peri (Connie Rivers) and Gary Ballard (Grandpa Joad), they all shine in a setting that rarely sees the sun.
The set and backdrops, created by a talented team led by Melissa Ficociello and Leslie Diller-Zollo, while minimal, work perfectly. Simple wooden shacks are moved across a bare stage and somehow bring to life a vivid imagery of the dusty plains.
The clunker the family drives demands our praise as it is built before our very eyes with nothing short of miscellaneous clutter. Suitcases and buckets serve as seats for the family, wooden planks and bedposts make up the exterior, while two cleverly placed kerosene lamps are transformed into headlights. Much like the Joad family, it barely holds together at the seams and appears ready to fall apart at any moment.
The lighting, spearheaded by Elizabeth Harper, is subtle and beautiful.
Throughout the performance we are treated to live blue grass music creating an ambiance that brings everything together. The joyful strumming of the banjos and simple tapping of toes evokes a feeling of hope that the families fleeing the Dust Bowl always held on to regardless of extreme hardship.
The show runs for approximately three hours so make sure you buckle up! You're in for one heck of a ride, but in the end "The Grapes of Wrath" is definitely worth the trip.
"The Grapes of Wrath" runs through May 11 at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd in Pasadena. For tickets and information call 626-356-3100 or visit www.anoisewithin.org.