The Joads shocked genteel readers when they first appeared in John Steinbeck's epic novel The Grapes of Wrath nearly 70 years ago. Now they're as American as American Idol. Their pilgrimage from Oklahoma to California haunts our national psyche as much, if not more, than the existential quest by Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road.
As part of the countywide Performance Sonoma slate and its "Crossing Borders" theme, veteran theater director Beth Craven brings the humble but awe-inspiring Joad family to the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa for a month-long run. Brent Lindsay, above, portrays anti-hero Tom Joad. "The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorite books," Craven says. "It means a lot to me personally about human dignity and about people coming together to overcome adversity. Our stage version is all about displaced people crossing borders and fitting into different cultures. It has a lot to say to us today."
Craven first directed the play at Sonoma State University in 1992, reprising it later at the University of Tennessee. In this exuberant production, she draws heavily on outstanding local talent, including designer David Lear's set, a fantastic landscape that conveys the sweep of America itself, and original music by composer Tom Martin for banjo, fiddle, guitar and string bass. The battered 1935 Ford jalopy that's onstage for much of the first act is a major character itself, a hero on wheels. The play, like the novel, the movie and Woody Guthrie's ballad, never fails to move audiences emotionally.
The Grapes of Wrath runs Thursday&–Sunday, Oct. 5&–27. Thursday&–Saturday at 8pm; matinee, Saturday&–Sunday at 2pm. Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $14&–$26. 707.523.4185.
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