Fredonia theatre department offers Steinbeck classic ‘Grapes of Wrath’

Friday October 11, 2019Doug Osborne-Coy
Cast members in Grapes of Wrath
Tom Joad (Ezra Lyons), left, shares a lighter moment with Ma (Marisa Rivera) and Pa (Jack Levenberg) looks on in a scene from the Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance production of “The Grapes of Wrath.” 

The Department of Theatre and Dance will open the 2019-20 Walter Gloor Mainstage Series with six performances of John Steinbeck’s award-winning “The Grapes of Wrath” from Oct. 18 to 26 in the Robert W. Marvel Theatre.

Tickets are available through the Fredonia Ticket Office at the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 (1-866-441-4928) or online.

Renowned first as a novel, and then as a prize-winning motion picture, “The Grapes of Wrath” tells the story of the Joad family and their flight from the dust bowl of Oklahoma and is familiar to all. Desperately proud, but reduced to poverty by the loss of their farm, the Joads pile their few possessions on a battered old truck and head west for California, hoping to find work and a better life.

“In the same way that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s’ The Great Gatsby’ is synonymous with the glamour and opulence of the Roaring Twenties, John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is emblematic of the drastic shift to degeneration and decay of the American Dream in the ‘Dirty Thirties,’” said Director Daniel Lendzian, a member of the Theatre and Dance faculty. “The Dust Bowl ranks as one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of American history and we tend to overlook the importance of this period before the onset of World War II. It underscores the corrupt nature of capitalism and the weaponization of social stratification under dire circumstances that require humanity stand as one just to survive.”

Performance dates and times are Friday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Oct. 24 through Saturday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. The play is by Frank Galati, and is presented through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

“Our production is based upon Frank Galati’s adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel, which made its debut at Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago in 1989 and made its way to Broadway a year later,” Lendzian said. The production earned both a Tony Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award in 1990. It was described as a “powerful and deeply affecting stage version of one of the masterpieces of American literature.’”

“Whenever we think of ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ we so often associate it with a profound, overwhelming sorrow; it becomes easy to resign ourselves solely to that notion throughout the course of this journey,” Lendzian said. “In search of proper duality the softer, lighthearted moments of community and kindness within this text must also be showcased. There are two elements that are vital to achieving this: An ensemble that is both cohesive and compassionate, as well as the production staff who have allowed us to delve so deeply into the world of this play.”

More than 75 students are involved in the Department of Theatre and Dance Mainstage production.

“It would be a disservice to this production to single out any particular moments; instead I would highlight their collective efforts as a whole,” Lendzian said. “It is important to say, however, that this show will feature some amazing acting, design, and technical achievements, including a dancing barbershop quartet, a full-sized working truck, a river, a thunderstorm, stunning dance and fight choreography, live music, over one hundred costumes, and John Steinbeck’s beautiful prose.” 

The Walter Gloor Mainstage Series event is presented as part of the Lake Shore Savings Season.

“My greatest hope is that the audience will walk away from our production with a revitalized belief in the power of community, especially during periods of great hardship,” Lendzian said. “While the novel is a haunting recollection of this time in American history, it’s also a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit. Both the novel and the play highlight the small acts of kindness that come through an enduring sense of community. Gifts such as these can provide the spark someone needs to work through desperate times with no end in sight.”

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