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Theatre Review: The Grapes Of Wrath


Chances are you know the story of “The Grapes of Wrath” – how the impoverished Joad family makes a desperate Depression-era trip from Oklahoma to California, seeking work. John Steinbeck’s novel is still widely read, people revere the 1940 film with Henry Fonda, and since 1988, there’s been a play based on the novel as well.

The Sacramento Theater Company’s production combines that Tony Award-winning script with local professional actors. And they’ve added something new -- original music by the Americana duo Misner and Smith, which really reinforces the story being told.

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The Joad family lost their Oklahoma farm to a bank foreclosure. And as they drive West in their rust-bucket truck, they run short on food and money. Two family members die before they reach California.

But finally, they stand on a mountain, gazing at a breathtaking vista extending to the horizon...

“Suddenly, they saw that Great Valley below them….

“Jesus Christ, look!

“The orchards, the vineyards, the great flat valley… green and beautiful… the trees all in rows… the farm houses….

“My God, I want to look at her… I never knowed there was anything like her.

“Ma, Ma, come look! It’s California”

It’s a magic theatrical moment, and of course they’re talking about the place we live.

But finding work proves almost impossible. A disgruntled migrant gives this lowdown on his futile trip to a ranch that advertised for workers.

“So maybe this fellow needs 200 men, so he talks to 500. And they tell some other folks. And when you get to the place, there’s a THOUSAND men. This fella here is saying “I’m paying 15 cents an hour.” Maybe half the men walk off. But they’s still 500 so goddam hungry they’d work for nothing but biscuits!”

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This old story pricks your conscience, because we still see desperate, uprooted families on the move, we see workers picking fruit in the autumn sun. This robust production – combining good acting, a classic American saga, and stylish new songs – makes for a solid evening of live theater.

The Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of “The Grapes of Wrath” continues through Oct. 26. 

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