The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Depression. The Dust Bowl. A family is brought together by tragedy and circumstance. John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939 but elements of his story are relevant even today, in our economically turbulent times. The Joads are a very poor family of farmers in Oklahoma, trapped by the Dust Bowl and are forced to travel to California to seek work, land, and salvation.
Trinity Repertory Company opens its 50th season with a performance of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and does amazing justice to the historical work. A talented cast combining Trinity’s resident acting company and some new faces to the area bring this important work to brilliant life.
The Joads -- Ma and Pa, Anne Scurria and Richard Donelly, respectively, Tom (Stephen Thorne) Granma (Janice Duclos) and Granpa (Stephen Berenson) are the core of the family, with Tom’s character as the protagonist and narrator. Tom returns home after being paroled for a murder charge and meets up with Jim Casy (Joe Wilson, Jr.) a preacher he was acquainted with in his youth. Casy has lost his faith but not his wisdom, and the two seek out the rest of Tom’s family.
Arriving home to an empty house, they meet Muley Graves (Charlie Thurston) who fills them in as to what has ultimately happened to the family as well as the other farmers in the area. We are introduced to the rest of the Joad clan:
Noah (Ben Grills,) Ruthie (Nikki Massoud,) Winfield (Ted Moller,) and Al (Matt E. Russell.) The youngest daughter Rose of Sharon (Jessica Crandall) "Rosasharn" as she is called by the rest of the family is pregnant with a young drifter’s (Alex Curtis) child. Tom decides the best thing to do is to head west to California where work presumably can be found in the warmer, more fruitful climate.
The narrative is highlighted here by a band "3Pile," utilizing members of the ensemble cast who sing and play original songs; it is a welcome addition and does not detract from the story as it unfolds. The stage is a simple, plain set flanked by tables and a working bar; we are able to see the action which takes place everywhere, a Trinity trademark.
But it is the excellent work of the actors which truly makes this performance sing. Wilson as the preacher is intelligent and reflective, he makes the role his own. As Pa, Donelly competently plays the man who is completely lost without his ability to provide for his family. Ma is wonderfully played by Scurria; she is quite moving here.
As Tom, Thorne is brilliant. He wrestles with his apparent violent nature and the wish to do what is right for his kin, he is mesmerizing. The ensemble has some of the most talented young people, switching from song to performance and back is quite a feat. And Thurston as Graves/Ensemble has the chance to show his versatility in a few roles.
Adapted by Frank Galati, the sweeping epic is brought to a more humanistic level, focusing on the characters rather than their situation, and it works. Brian McEleney’s direction is like a dramatic ballet, his cast moves from scene to scene fluidly and we are never able to take our eyes off our actors.
Emotional, topical and wonderful, this is an amazing show you should go and see.
"The Grapes of Wrath" is playing through Oct. 12 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, Providence. For info and tickets, call 401-351-4212 or visit www.trinityrep.com.