Friday I attended opening night of the Intiman’s new production of The Grapes of Wrath, based on Frank Galati’s Tony Award winning adaptation of the John Steinbeck classic. Back in 1990 Frank Rich was the New York Times’ main theater reviewer, much feared for scathing reviews that were often more entertaining than their subject matter. However Rich was atypically effusive of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s “majestic” production:
“[Frank Galati’s adaptation] is true to Steinbeck because it leaves one feeling that the generosity of spirit that he saw in a brutal country is not so much lost as waiting once more to be found.”
It is hard to watch a production of The Grapes of Wrath without unfairly comparing the performances to that of the 1940 film adaptation or the original Steppenwolf production (available on video), but while audiences accustomed to Henry Fonda or Gary Sinese may have trouble envisioning another actor in the lead role of Tom Joad, the Intiman cast did a wonderful job overall. And as always, the Intiman delivers a top notch production, including a piece of clever stagecraft that prompted my 8-year-old daughter to loudly proclaim “Cool!”
(While the show is ably directed by Seattle Children’s Theater Artistic Director Linda Hartzell, this is by no means a kid’s show, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking the typical 8-year-old to see it. However, mine loved all 2.5 hours of it… though she’s still asking questions about the ending.)
Now I don’t generally do theater reviews, but I bring this up for two reasons. First, I wanted to plug tonight’s Open Minds/Open Dialogue panel discussion at the Intiman, “Soil, Salmon and Survival“, which explores the connection between The Grapes of Wrath and the land and water of this region. The discussion will be moderated by The Stranger’s Charles Mudede, and will include farm labor organizer and former migrant worker Rosalinda Guillen, salmon recovery expert and advocate Barbara Cairns, travel writer and novelist Jonathon Raban, and Millie Judge, who manages the Land Use and Environmental Law unit of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Civil Division.
The discussion starts at 7:30 PM, and is free to the public… but please RSVP via e-mail, or by calling 206-269-1901 Ext. 395. I wish I could be there, but my very busy daughter and I will be attending an equally engaging Girl Scout troop meeting instead.
The second reason I bring up The Grapes of Wrath is because as I was watching this classic story of the Joad’s struggle to survive in California after fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930’s… I couldn’t help but wonder what the arch-righty trolls on HA would make of Steinbeck’s infuriating tale of the abuse and exploitation these refugees suffered at the hands of greedy landowners. We have grown so accustomed to hearing angry, anti-union vitriol coming from the right, that we sometimes lose sight of the kind of brutal economic (and physical) injustice workers might still fear today if not for the efforts of organized labor. And it is also curious to note how seventy years later, the right is still employing the same red-baiting rhetoric.
The mark of a classic is timelessness, and The Grapes of Wrath is as relevant today as it was the day it was published. If you like great theater, go see the show.