John Steinbeck's classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath" epitomizes the desperate spirit of Oklahomans caught first by the Great Depression, followed by a crushing drought.
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park presents Frank Galati's adaptation as an official centennial production. No small challenge technically, the piece requires multiple settings.
Shane McClure's set design is minimalist, with a clever platform at the back of the stage. Although looking at the black stage floor gets dull, the real truck itself is vintage poverty, complete with headlights that work. Danyel Siler's costumes have the right color palette, although, curiously, there isn't a frayed collar or an ill-fitting hand-me-down in sight.
The production gets off to a sluggish start. In spite of Steinbeck's poetic rendition of Oklahoma colloquialisms, slow cues and a monotonous tempo bog the piece down.
Most of the cast accentuate the characters' stoic depression, rather than the desperate optimism of people taking action against their troubles (except Grandpa and Grandma Joad, who are almost cartoonish and seem to be from a different play). This glumness sets up a flat dynamic that holds until the second act, when danger and tension shape the story.
Perhaps the cast approached this famous piece with too much reverence, afraid to breathe life into these icons of American myth. Whatever the reason, neither the anguish nor the brave desperation are ever quite realized.
Director Kathryn McGill rarely exploits the thrust stage's potential for fluid group movement. Too often, her ensemble players look like they're waiting for their next line, rather than actively engaging in the action.