News Section: Arts and Entertainment
Galati's Famous Steinbeck Adaptation Comes to Asolo Stage Next Month
SARASOTA – Most avid readers have a hard time naming a favorite novel and were it not for John Steinbeck's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, there would certainly be tremendous competition for the top spot on my list. The Great Gatsby, Appointment in Samarra, Revolutionary Road, Zorba the Greek, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and For Whom the Bell Tolls are just a few that have always seemed near-perfect.
However, from the first time I closed the cover on Steinbeck's 1939 tale of Dust Bowl-era hardships, to each and every re-read since, that thin space between near and perfect has failed to present itself, at least in my mind. If Gatsby is the quintessential "Great American Novel," then Grapes may well be the book that best speaks to all of humanity.
I've always liked the saying that what comes out of someone when they are angry, scared and desperate is a good indication of what they are made of; and those hardscrabble times of the Great Depression provide a ripe backdrop for peeling back the skin and seeing what's on the inside.
"I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this," Steinbeck said of the book. "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags."
I don't know anyone who would argue that he failed to do just that, and the book may well be the one most often discussed at all levels of American Literature over the last 75 years, perhaps ever.
Clearly, that sets a pretty high bar in terms of adaptation and it was almost 60 years before Frank Galati brought Grapes to the stage, ultimately winning a Tony Award for Best Play in 1990, when it finally opened on Broadway after 11 preview productions. Despite nearly impossible expectations, Galati's adaptation is almost universally considered a masterpiece in its own right.
To say that I was excited when the Asolo Repertory Theatre announced it as part of their 2013/14 season would be something of an understatement. Ironically, Galati is currently directing Asolo's production of Philadelphia Here I Come. Michael Donald Edwards will direct The Grapes of Wrath, which opens March 14 and runs through April 19.
"The Grapes of Wrath is a great work of art," said Edwards. "The Joad family’s story of survival is uplifting and universal. For me, there are few plays that touch every aspect of what it is to be human, and this is one of them."
The ensemble cast will showcase the considerable depth of Asolo's talent pool. Christian Conn, who can be seen in Asolo's current production of Philadelphia Here I Come, will star as Tom Joad, a reprisal of a role he played to warm reviews at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2009.
Anytime an Asolo Rep production features the considerable talents of both David Breitbarth (Uncle John) and Douglas Jones (Pa Joad), it is a good indication that a memorable performance will follow, with Clybourne Park and Glengary Glenn Ross serving as two recent examples. Peggy Roeder, who wowed audiences this season in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, also promises to be a considerable presence as Ma Joad. David S. Howard, who won accolades for his starring role in last season's You Can't Take it With You, will play Grandpa Joad, rounding out a rare opportunity to see Asolo's very best trading lines on the same stage.
Edwards was also able to tap the best talent in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory to fill out the large and wide-ranging cast, with several actors undertaking multiple minor roles. In short, this looks like an excellent opportunity to see a world-renowned play performed by a cast and crew with the chops to do it considerable justice. There will be two preview performances on March 12 and 13. For ticket information, visit the Asolo Rep website.
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