Grapes of Wrath at New Stage

grapesIf someone says the words, “grapes of wrath,” and the first thing that comes to your mind is an incessantly annoying Veggie Tales tune, then shame on you.

If the first thing that comes to your mind, however, is a family of migrant workers traveling across America with a hope of a better life, then we can be friends.

New Stage Theatre, a professional theater nestled in the heart of Jackson, has taken the classic John Steinbeck novel and transformed it into a riveting adventure for audience’s eyes.

For those who have been living under a rock, The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family as they leave the devastation that the Dust Bowl of the 30s has left them in.grapes-of-wrath-novel

Their farm has been repossessed, and they are left in debt. The only solution is to pack up what little belongings they own, throw them in a truck (along with all thirteen members of the family), and head West on Route 66 towards California.

Talk has spread to the family of high wages that people are willing to pay in the Golden State, and the glimmering dream of a better life is what keeps them trekking along.

Along the way, the family suffers loss, both in death and in the departure of family members who decide that the dream of California may not be for the whole family. They stop at various camps along the way, and learn that the high wages of the West may not be all they are cracked up to be. Still, with an ever optimistic outlook, the family ventures on.

New Stage has taken a very heavy story and translated it into a purely emotional experience for its audience. The cast is top-notch. Ma and Pa Joad, played respectively by Jo Ann Robinson and Larry Wells, perfectly embody a caring set of parents willing to do anything and go anywhere to ensure a better life for their family.

David Lind takes on the character of Tom Joad, the focus of the Joad family, and plays the conflicted but caring part with precision, humor, and likeability.

One of the most powerful performances comes from David Spencer in the role of Jim Casey, the ex-preacher that travels along with the family. Some of the best monologues and “character-moments” are experienced when he speaks.

Lastly, Kerri Courtney Sanders as Rose of Sharon displays an incredible amount of growth. She starts as a naïve, pregnant wife at the beginning, and over the journey, grows into a serious young woman who understands the importance of sacrifice and putting others before herself.

It is not just the primary cast that delivers stellar performances, though. Whether a car salesman, a policeman, or a member of a musical ensemble reminiscent of Mumford and Sons, every person that crosses the stage goes out of their way to perform and to perform well.

As a lover of the stage, it would be foolish for me to stop praising “Grapes” merely at the acting. The set and scenery were some of the most outstanding I have ever beheld, and kept me captivated the entire two and a half hours, despite my normal inability to focus on one thing for too long.

A simple, seemingly barren stage is the setting for the cross-country journey of the Joads – a perfect representation of the devastation and barrenness the Dust Bowl left central America in. But it truly comes to life as the Joads literally build their car from household items on stage and “travel” from point A to point B on what can best be described as conveyer-belt fashion.

It Is impossible to describe the detail of the way this set molded and reshaped itself to fit the task, but it did. At multiple points, the stage shifts to reveal a pool, or river, that the characters jump into.

Rain falls from the ceiling. Gunshots are fired. I have nothing to say other than that I have never been more impressed by the technical components of a play, and it would have been worth paying the hefty ticket price just to watch that stage move.

For those familiar with the story, you will not expect to see a happy fairy-tale where every character gets what they want. But if you are nott familiar, be warned. This is one of those stories that will mess with your feelings and your heart and make you question people to the very core – but it is worth seeing.

Everyone involved in bringing the Steinbeck novel to life deserves a round of applause.

“Grapes of Wrath” runs at New Stage until Nov. 3.

– Heather Barnes, Contributing Writer

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