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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Department of Theater and Dance presents The Grapes of Wrath

With performances beginning March 6 and going on through March 16, the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance will be presenting Frank Galati’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Miles Anderson, the play’s plot of a farmer family escaping the Dust Bowl to California is dramatized by both original and traditional American folk music of the time.

Anderson, whose previous acting and directing experience includes the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego and the Royal Shakespeare Company, explained that his interest in directing The Grapes of Wrath comes from Davis’ proximity to the setting of the novel and his passion for American theatre and folk music.

“I thought not only is it the 75th anniversary of the novel, but it’s also a tale of a family that migrates to this part of California, 150 miles south in Salinas, where Steinbeck lived,” Anderson said. “The Frank Galati play has plenty of country music which I really enjoy, and [directing The Grapes of Wrath] is something I’ve wanted to do — direct Americans in a classic American play.”

Anderson expressed that his own upbringing and mother’s struggle with poverty in Southern Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) informed his directing of the play, and he considers his parents and his own life events to be influential in his directorial vision.

“I think [my mother’s stories of poverty] are bound to certainly subconsciously influence my vision of the play, [such as in] the parting of a son leaving his mother off to the wide world,” Anderson said. “I [also] can relate to a man losing his job and his dignity … [The Joad family in the play] knows hard times but they owned 80 acres and kept themselves fed and had respectability … and overnight they lose everything.”

Musical director and doctoral candidate Alex Stalarow collaborated with Anderson in selecting songs from the public domain and creating original songs with lyrics lifted from the Steinbeck novel itself.

“[Director Miles Anderson] was insistent that music be an important part from the get-go for a lot of different reasons, [ … including] to express the ambience of the ’30s through music because there’s such a strong musical aesthetic to the time,” Stalarow said.

The play features the instrumentation of three musicians. Stalarow notes that they play a diegetic role in the play, as they are involved in and telling stories of the plot.

Members of the company sing throughout the play, primarily spiritual hymns. Stalarow said he feels confident that the music’s powerful and seamless presence in the play will move the audience.

“The aesthetic we’re going for is certainly an earnest sound coming from the characters rather than all trained vocalists … [The music is] really well integrated into the rhythm of the play and woven into the transitions nicely. In some of the more dramatic moments we’ve used music cinematically to really push the emotions, and I think it will render those moments even more powerfully. And yeah, it’s going to make you cry,” Stalarow said.

Actor and doctoral candidate John Zibell plays the lead role of Tom Joad. He notes that the powerful tone of the play feels epic and even operatic in its grand depiction of simple, common events.

“[The play is] sung in such an epic, operatic way. Acting in [The Grapes of Wrath] is a mix between huge emotions and plain simple everyday actions — peeling potatoes, fetching some water, fixing the truck — but the consequences of these things are huge, as it considers the oppression of other humans,” Zibell said.

Zibell said he finds certain aspects of his role to be challenging, acting as the introverted, quiet Tom Joad.

“The biggest challenge is that Tom Joad is extremely different from me. I’m extremely expressive and he’s quiet, so trying to find that quiet spirit as an introverted kind of character has been different. Another thing is trying to be intimate and vulnerable when 20 others are building a migrant camp on stage,” Zibell said.

Anderson explained how he allows the actors freedom to develop into their roles, which he feels has produced great results.

“More and more I like them to bring me something and mold into something that’s acceptable to me, and I’m blessed with a wonderful company; they’re thin-skinned, people who [bring] emotions to the forefront — those are [the people] who I want to work with. Also, they seem to be enjoying themselves, and that’s what it’s all about,” Anderson said.

The Grapes of Wrath will be performed in the Main Theater in Wright Hall. Tickets are $17/$19 for general admission, $12/$14 for students, children and seniors and can be purchased online at tickets.mondaviarts.org or by phone at (530) 754-2787. For more information, please visit theaterdance.ucdavis.edu.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I saw it Saturday (3/8) evening. The talent was lacking. Of the primary cast “Ma” was the best (followed by Rose of Sharon perhaps). The rest were on a scale ranging from “decent??” to “somewhat painful.” The music was more distracting than supplementing for almost every scene.

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