A play based on Nobel Prize laureate John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” runs through Feb. 25 at Brenau University’s Hosch Theatre, 429 Academy St., Gainesville.
The classic Depression-era tale takes on renewed poignancy in these days of rampant foreclosures, sky-rocking unemployment and global economies tottering on the brink of collapse. It covers the odyssey of the Joads, a family of Oklahoma “Dust Bowl” sharecroppers who in desperation join the westward migration with thousands of others seeking jobs, dignity and basic needs for survival.
As do all the GTA productions, “The Grapes of Wrath” production is a collaboration of work by students and faculty of Brenau and Gainesville State College working with professionals at every level. Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s Bob Farley is guest director. Professional actor Jane Bass, who appears often at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern, handles the of “Grandma Joad,” and Elisa Carlson, returning to Georgia after a 15-career as a dialog coach at theaters around the country, has the pivotal, heart-wrenching role of “Ma Joad.”
“For me, it’s really a story about Ma Joad,” said director Farley. “Because of the iconic photos of Henry Fonda [in the movie role], Tom Joad is often thought of as the hero, but he’s a convicted murderer, just out on parole. I don’t want that kind of person to be hero. Ma Joad is the one who responds to all the hurdles the family must confront, and who holds the family together.”
For a broader view, Kevin Mace, professor of speech and mass communications at Brenau, says the Joad story is a window into a scary, troublesome time in U.S. history. “My parents grew up in the Depression,” said Mace. “My dad always said if you want to know what it was like, the book to read is John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.”
“What makes it such a great novel in my mind is it’s kind of like ‘Jurassic Park’: I has something for everybody,” said Jay Gaspar, professor of English and humanities at Brenau. “It has realism and naturalism in terms of literary genres. It has stories about traveling the road out Route 66 to California, about people in the camps and their alienation from society and how they worked to re-affirm a personal connection with the family and community.”
(To see a video of the full commentary by Gaspar and Mace, as well as comments from Brenau students participating in the production of “The Grapes of Wrath,” got to www.brenau.edu/video.)
Making the play more relevant to what is happening in the world today and helping strengthen bonds to the community, GTA has invited 10 organizations to be part of a Community Resource Fair in the lobby each night of the production. All are groups that work to bring relief to the poor and homeless in the area.
“The Grapes of Wrath” runs through Feb. 25. Tickets are $16-18 for adults, $14-16 for seniors and $10-12 for students.
Patrons can select their own seats on the website at www.gainesvilleTHEATREalliance.org or purchase tickets through the GTA Box Office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at 678-717-3624. MasterCard, Visa and Discover are accepted.
ADA seating is available by calling the Box Office.
The Gainesville Theatre Alliance is a nationally acclaimed collaboration between Gainesville State College, Brenau University, theater professionals and theater enthusiasts in the northeast Georgia community.