‘Grapes of Wrath’ at Brenau

One indicator that it’s a good time for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance to tackle Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath could be the proliferation of beggars at street intersections. Or the foreclosure rate, or the unemployment statistics or the rising incidence of mothers and children who show up at homeless shelters. Either way, it is an eerily good time to revisit the story of the Joad family and their search for security and identity after comfortable life collapses. The play opens on Feb. 14 at Brenau University’s Hosch Theatre, 429 Academy St., Gainesville. 

The Gainesville Theatre Alliance is a nationally acclaimed collaboration between Gainesville State College, Brenau University, theatre professionals and the northeast Georgia community, and the community plays a critical role in the upcoming production.
Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director Bob Farley is guest directing The Grapes of Wrath for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, providing north Georgia patrons a glimpse of his alchemy skills earned over a 40 year theatrical career that has taken him from Alaska to New York and included receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Pasadena Playhouse. True to GTA’s goal of training theatre majors through work with professional and community actors, Farley has a blended cast of 32 actors and musicians, including a Grandma Joad played by professional Jane Bass, who appears often at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern.
GTA Artistic Director Jim Hammond will appear in the role of preacher Jim Casy, and GTA’s newest faculty member Elisa Carlson, a Georgia girl recently returned after 15 years of coaching dialect at theatres around the country and on staff with the renowned Guthrie theatre in Minnesota, is in the heart-wrenching role of Ma Joad.

“For me, it’s really a story about Ma Joad,” director Bob Farley explained recently. “Because of the iconic photos of Henry Fonda, 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 hurtles the family must confront, and who holds the family together.”

Two other critical players in this production are John Grimm and Beverly Smith, both award-winning musicians whose fiddle and guitar provide musical underscoring exposing the hearts of the characters written in playwright Frank Galati’s compact script. Actress Carlson says their playing lifts various scenes to feel like an Oscar-winning moments.

In an effort to help make the play more relevant to patrons while creating connections in 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, and GTA planners hope patrons will realize that the story of the Joads is playing out TODAY in the community, and feel moved to get involved.

Agencies participating include Good News at Noon, the Good News Clinic, My Sister’s Place, Gateway Domestic Violence Center, Joe’s Place, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Gainesville Action Ministries, Feed the Need, Meals-on-Wheels and the Salvation Army.

In addition to exposure for the agencies to crowds of potential volunteers and donors, GTA’s merchandise table will be selling 100 “empty bowls,” hand-thrown soup bowls created and donated by four generous artists in the Gainesville State Art Department. Bowls will be sold for $25 and funds donated to the 10 relief agencies that are part of the fair.

The Grapes of Wrath opens on February 14, with a free Opening Night Reception catered by 2Dog following the performance, and runs through the 21st. Tickets are $16-18 for adults, $14-16 for seniors and $10-12 for students. There is an $8 discounted preview performance on February 13.

Patrons can select their own seats on the website at www.gainesvilleTHEATREalliance.org or purchase tickets through the GTA Box Office from 10am to 4pm weekdays at 678-717-3624. MasterCard, Visa and Discover are accepted. ADA seating is available by calling the Box Office.

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, (770) 534-6299 or (800) 252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, (770) 534-6100 or (800) 252-5119 ext. 6100