Wright State University presents a riveting, emotional, timely, and ensemble-driven production of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, a powerful story of humanity, tragedy and hope during the Great Depression. Watching the American Family attempt to survive in the face of adversity, especially when dire situations threaten to keep them from moving forward, cuts deep, particularly throughout Act 2.
Marya Spring Cordes provides wonderfully atmospheric, physical and intimate direction including a superb transition when Ma Joad (a strong and earthy Alexia Vlahos) consoles Rose of Sharon (MacKenzie Stephens) as a rousing square dance unfolds. In addition to Vlahos and Stephens, terrific portrayals extend to Dylan Tacker (a very endearing Tom Joad), Louis Kurtzman (ladies’ man Al Joad), Isaac Ingle (continuing his winning patriarch track record as Pa Joad), Eli Davis (kooky Grandpa), Aaron Roitman (strikingly conveying the cheerful and cowardly duality of Connie Rivers, Rose of Sharon’s spineless husband), Nick Martin (mentally challenged Noah Joad and also outstanding as Joe Pitt in a student-produced Angels in America last weekend), Jeremy Farley (a fiery Floyd Knowles), Brynnan McNeill (ultra-religious Elizabeth Sandry), and many more.
Set designer Pam Knauert Lavarnway, lighting designer Emily Hope, projection designer Matthew Benjamin, costumer Elizabeth Bourgeois, sound designer James Dunlap, choreographer Taylor Patrick, fight choreographer Bruce Cromer, and dialect coach Deborah Thomas provide expert work.
Dunlap and Rick Good supply authentically tuneful original folk songs as well. The Grapes of Wrath, featuring a truly unforgettable final scene defining compassion to the utmost, continues through Feb. 11 in WSU’s Festival Playhouse. Tickets run about $20 and can be purchased online here.