UF’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ brings American determination to stage

“The Grapes of Wrath” features Andrew Bailes as Pa Joad and Adam Kroeger as Tom Joad.

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:21 p.m.

A large-scale stage production of the classic American novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” opens Friday at the University of Florida.


‘The Grapes of Wrath’

What: UF School of Theatre and Dance production of classic John Steinbeck story
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Monday through Feb. 5, 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 6
Where: Constans Theatre at the UF Nadine McGuire Pavilion, UF campus
Tickets: $17, $13 for UF students and staff
Info: 392-1653 or www.union.ufl.edu/ubo/

The cast of 38 actors in UF’s School of Theatre and Dance will appear in the play at the Nadine McGuire Pavilion’s Constans Theatre at 7:30 p.m. and continue through Feb. 6. The play, adapted from John Steinbeck’s book by Frank Galati, follows a migrant family in the 1930s trying to survive during the times of severe draught by leaving their home in Oklahoma and traveling across the U.S. via Route 66.

“This is a play about people trying to hold on to their humanity under [bad] circumstances,” says Charlie Mitchell, director of the play. “I think it’s very inspiring.”

The play’s emphasis on family carried over to the actors themselves. Adam Kroeger, who plays Tom Joad, said the best part of the production for him is the family created behind stage from working on the play.

“We all love each other,” Kroeger says. “We support each other and give each other hard time when it’s appropriate.”

The play marks Mitchell’s second production as a director at UF. Last year, Mitchell, a UF assistant professor of theater, directed “In the Blood.”

The budget of “The Grapes of Wrath” was higher than that of other UF productions, Mitchell says, and that made it more feasible to create costumes for an ensemble of 38 actors and accomplish 15 set changes ranging from Oklahoma plains to the Colorado river and roadside camps.

One of the set pieces is a wooden/metallic car on casters, which had to be built from scratch. Two wall pieces move behind the car during driving scenes to suggest that the characters are on the road.

Another set features actual rain falling on the stage.

Mitchell says he also wanted to make the play more authentic to the 1930s by incorporating some dialogue taken directly from the book and by having a fiddler player and local artist Tom Shed perform live period music throughout the play.

During his research about the period, Mitchell says he listened to about a dozen songs sung by migrants who lived in roadside camps during the 1930s.

“I was very moved by those recordings,” says Mitchell, adding that some of the songs will be played during the show.

Some people think “The Grapes of Wrath” is just about Route 66, but it’s a lot more complex, added Kroeger, a first-year graduate student in acting.

“It’s about the classic American determination,” he said, “that perpetual work ethic that’s part of the American society.”

Tickets are $17, $13 for UF students and staff.

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