by Terrance Mc Arthur
2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Fresno’s Good Company Players have staged a revival of the Frank Galati adaptation. Directed by Patrick Tromborg (who also designed the settings), the production rips the emotions raw and offers no easy solutions for the audience’s minds. You will talk about it, argue about it, and wonder about it, but you will not forget it.
The story follows the Joad family from the Depression’s Dust Bowl in Oklahoma to the fertile fields of California where their work ethic is wanted, but only at a non-living-wage price, where their desire for self-determination is looked upon as Socialist subversion of the society. Along the journey, the family unit crumbles as the men die, flee, go crazy, or follow their romantic choices, leaving the women to rely on one another for strength.
Marc Gonzalez makes a more pugnacious Tom Joad than Henry Fonda did in the 1940 film. He has an attitude from the beginning, not holding back his emotions, somewhat reminiscent of Mark Wahlberg.
Amelia Ryan is Ma Joad, who transforms from a passive, supportive wife and mother to the glue holding together the shattered remnants of a family unit. The change doesn’t happen all at once, but the determination slowly grows on her face and in her voice. Ryan is soon to be seen in a one-woman Rogue Festival show, one I want to see.
Noel Adams as Jim Casy, a minister who is de-frocked, de-flocked, and gone humanist, creates a character who is looking for something to believe in at a time where everything he believes in has blown away with the drought of the Dust Bowl.
Tromborg creates a multi-dimensional atmosphere with projected images of the era and a truck that is constructed, moved, and deconstructed to provide set pieces for all the locations of the narrative. Musicians with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, and banjos move their fingers as they pretend to play pre-recorded music, which underscores the surreal atmosphere. Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed has costumed the cast in the grays of dust and the browns of a vintage photograph, an appropriate palette that gives a solid background for the work of the cast that has many changes of character to fill out all the required roles.
Some of the book’s objectionable language is modified, but there is enough cussing to disqualify this for a Sunday School outing. It’s a strong story, filled with issues of labor, management, and dignity that can be difficult to face, but this is partly how Steinbeck earned a Nobel Prize in literature. There is worth here, and it is a story that should be read, should be seen, and should be experienced. This production is a good way to do that.
The Grapes of Wrath plays through February 23, 2014, at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Avenue, at Olive and Van Ness. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for general admission, and $15 for students and seniors.
For further information, call the box office at266-0660 or 1-800-371-4747, Tues. – Sun. from 10 a.m., or go to their website.