Last Friday, I took in the opening night of the Theater Department’s powerfully performed a production of John Steinbeck’s 1939 classic The Grapes of Wrath adapted by Frank Galati. The Theater productions here on campus are professional on every level.
The campus theater is a state of the art venue with great sound, intimate feel, and all around visual coverage. The set was transformed into early 1930s rural Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl where Steinbeck’s novel begins.
Within the first five minutes of the performance, Tom Joad and Jim Casy (Geoffrey Rocha and Timothy Cabal) had already coaxed two belly laughs out of the audience. Well, this is gearing up to be a success was all that came to mind. The production took the audience to the poverty stricken times of the early 30s Great Depression years. It was surprising how underneath some very well delivered comedy the desperation of the period could be felt throughout the performance. It was conveyed so distinctly that it was almost a tangible entity in the room.
After Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, it became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940, yet it remains a controversial piece of literature. There were some agricultural associations that said the novel was “lies” and “propaganda.” The social-economic aspect of Steinbeck’s novel was an integral point that director/faculty member Eric Bishop seemed particularly passionate about. For millions the struggle we see in Grapes of Wrath is as much of a reality as it was 77 years ago. “We are doing this play because it has a lot of relevance to what’s happening today with the elections and the economic divide between groups. There are a lot of things that are relevant including the drought that is currently going on, and that plays into the ecological disasters we’ve had. I think our audience members will pick up on a lot of different themes that will resonate with them because of events happening today. I think what’s really important is that this play is about family and humanity; coming together with a sense of unity and community. That’s why it’s important we do this kind of theater. Steinbeck was a proponent of social justice and he wrote to make change. The reason I do theater is to utilize it as an agent of change as well. I hope our audiences leave the theater feeling inspired and changed,” said Director Eric Bishop.
The cast includes: Matt Absosamra, Dylon Andersen, Bryce Ayers, Andrea Bullar, Timothy Cabal, Justin Carty, Travis Charon, Elle Dodaro , Kyle Dowdy, Josef Emmenegger, Mary Rae Fanta, Matthew Fennel, Kiva Fohrman, Sawyer Henderson, Ted Hoehn, Tad Holguin, Makena Hurd, Dickson Janda, Tyrone Jeffries, Reden Magtira, John McCoy, Shane Murphy, Marvin Mosely, Shane Murphy, Carol Naegele, Emily Neifert, Thomas Neiman, Brent Perkins, Geoff Rocha, Anabella Rojas, Stephanie Russo, Griffin Satoda, Kelly Saunders, Emily Scibetta, Alex Smith, Lila Wakili, Caitlin Walker and Sarah White.
The entire cast delivered a stunning performance. It is a must see for students, faculty and communities around the college area. It will have you laughing through sheets of tears and send you home feeling like you have just been treated to a play on Broadway. Running 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission it’s a perfect option for a night out with friends and family.