Arts and Entertainment

Iconic 'Grapes of Wrath' comes to Bainbridge

'The Grapes of Wrath' opens at Bainbridge Performing Arts March 19.
— image credit: Steven Fogell/Courtesy Photo

Ma Joad, her hair bound in one long, single braid, kneels quietly at the edge of her father-in-law's grave. She places a small marker on the mound, and the crease in her brow deepens. Nearby sits a truck, a tired machine where a handful of people hang from its every surface; the rungs of its wooden bed rails, the rusted canopy above the cab.

It is a quiet moment during "The Grapes of Wrath," and out of it comes a striking resilience. The Joad family, driven from their Oklahoma home by drought and a dry economy, must continue their journey toward California, a promised land where they hope to restart their lives. The story, which plays out on the Bainbridge Performing Arts stage this month, is hauntingly relevant to today's mounting job losses and hard financial suffering. But it isn't a story of defeat.

"I can't think of a more iconic American story," said director Kate Carruthers. "It's not a depressing story. It's a story of hope and inspiration and love."

"The Grapes of Wrath," which debuts tonight on Bainbridge, is a tale read in high school English classrooms throughout the country. John Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for the book in 1940; it has since been adapted to both the screen and the stage, where it has earned nods from the Academy Awards and Tonys. Carruthers guessed many may have forgotten since their school days the optimism buried within its pages. She reread the book recently, and lauded the unique, powerful narrative of both a young man's journey and a family's tale of survival.

"It's remarkable for its simplicity, but for its complexity, too," she said. "We need things that remind us what's important in the end."

In "The Grapes of Wrath," Tom Joad leaves prison to find his sharecropper family financially devastated. The family packs its few belongings, and Tom breaks his parole boundaries as they all travel to the West Coast, where jobs and land supposedly await. The foundational struggles highlighted within the story ring true in light of the current economic decay.

"What's more relevant than that?" asked Carruthers.

She has infused Depression Era music into the show with the help of Kitsap family band More Luck to Us, a trio that is marrying its love of the sounds of the 1930s with the nuances and tempo of stage drama. The group uses a chorus of sounds; a fiddle, Appalachian Mountain dulcimer, guitar, concertina, mandolin and irish flute to bring to life the folk and gospel music of America's Dust Bowl.

The play's 60 roles are played by 27 actors, who also serve as the production's stage crew. The group began rehearsing last month, amid a multi-level stage that boasts a 1920s Hudson Super Six, the truck that takes the Joad family on its cross-country journey.

See 'The Grapes of Wrath'

"The Grapes of Wrath" will play at Bainbridge Performing Arts March 19-28. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. A pay-what-you-can preview will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18. Tickets are $24 for adults, and $18 for seniors, students, youth, military and teachers. Tickets may be purchased at www. bainbridgeperformingarts.org, by phone at (206) 842-85-69 or at the theatre, at 200 Madison Avenue North.

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