In Frank Galatis faithful stage adaptation of John Steinbecks novel The Grapes of Wrath, we meet some of the most selfless and some of the most selfish people well ever see. And then, as in real life, most characters in the story are a little of both.
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep), in conjunction with Oklahoma City Universitys TheatreOCU, presents this sprawling story of the Okies and others in the Great Depression at OCUs Burg Theatre. Directed by Harry Parker, the production holds ones attention for three hours, although it does not soar to the majestic heights theatergoers would like in a stage adaptation of an epic novel.
The congenial, if limited, Burg allows for a solid but not spectacular production. Jason Foremans scenic design effectively establishes locations as the Joads travel westward from near Sallisaw to California. Some stage trapdoors reveal campfires, Grampa Joads grave, the Colorado River and other settings.
The excellent musician Sonny Franks serves as narrator and troubadour. He fills in the story line, provides incidental music and sings period songs and hymns while playing various stringed instruments.
The cast does a fine job for the most part. This modest production depends so much on the actors performances. Cameron Cobb makes a likeable Tom Joad, newly paroled from prison in
McAlester. Cobb effectively captures Toms hotheadedness and genuine desire to do the right thing. Despite the beard, Erik Schark seems too young for the role of Jim Casy, the lapsed preacher turned folk philosopher. David Coffee and Pam Dougherty play Pa and Ma Joad with credible authenticity. Jeanie Cooper Sholers Granma Joad has the unquestioning enthusiasm of a genuine Holy Roller. Kate Robison gives an appealing performance as Rose of Sharon Joad.
Actors in supporting roles strengthen the production. First comes Don Taylor as Muley Graves, whos determined to stay in Oklahoma while everyone is forced off their homesteads. The ever-reliable Michael Jones is the feisty Grampa Joad. Scott Hynes plays the Man Coming Back, who portends the Joads struggles in what they think will be the promised land of California.
Like the novel, the play is written in dialect, but Parker has made sure the actors dont overdo it.
It would be impossible to replicate the novels depth and range in a theatrical adaption, although Galati retains much but not all of Steinbecks lustiness and humor. The script touches on how the Oklahoma sharecroppers are first exploited by bankers and then by corporate agriculture. Hardworking people trying to eke out an honest living get branded as agitators, something called a labor faker or, most ominously, red.
Although it takes a while to get there, the final scene in the play is the same as the final scene in the novel one of the great endings in American literature. Rose of Sharon can hardly be called a saint, but her unhesitating nourishment of the man in the barn either wrenches our hearts in admiration or makes us ashamed of our own egregious selfishness.
The Grapes of Wrath
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-SundayBurg Theatre
2501 N. Blackwelder Ave.