Rain will fall, fire will burn and the Colorado River will flow across the Power Center stage this weekend as University Productions recreates the environment of the Depression era for its drama, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Adapted from John Steinbeck”s novel, this epic play follows the Joad family”s migration from Oklahoma”s dust bowl to California. After losing its farm, the family moves west in search of a new life and the American Dream.
“I tend to choose plays that deal with human experience and people overcoming the odds,” director Darryl V. Jones said. “”The Grapes of Wrath” sort of covers all that.”
As the Joads embark on their journey, they travel in a large truck, just one of the show”s technical feats. At one point, the characters even take a swim in the Colorado River, Jones said. “If you like things happening on stage like thunderstorms, than this is a feast for the eyes,” he said.
Jones said he fueled the show”s pace by incorporating the scene changes into the action. This helps move the play, which takes place in 10 locations in the first act alone, he said. He added bluegrass and folk music of the period as well as choreography in order to keep the transitions smooth.
Local musician Frank Pahl coordinates the music, which uses instruments such as banjos, guitars and fiddles. The music provides the audience with added historical context for the show, said Theater and LSA senior Sandra Abrevaya, who portrays the family matriarch Ma Joad. The musicians “are part of the world of the play,” she said. “They kind of string it together. As the Joads move west, they move in and out of the play.”
The musical numbers include Jones” vocal arrangement of “This Land is Your Land,” a song that has “taken on new meaning since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States,” Jones said. The song helps the audience see the connections between the difficulties of the Great Depression and some of the challenges of our time, he said.
A cast of 38 tells Steinbeck”s story of life during the Great Depression. Jones said the large cast lends a realistic feel to the show”s depiction of the period”s mass migration, with large numbers of people moving on the stage.
“The size of the cast fits the scope of the show,” Abrevaya said.
“It”s not your typical kitchen sink drama,” she said. “It”s not four people talking about problems. It”s huge.”
Abrevaya said the show”s music and technical effects will add to the effectiveness of the play”s message. “There”s a lot of spectacle in the script, but what it comes down to is the script and what those people went through,” she said. “It”s the honesty of the actors that makes it special.”