LIMELIGHT THEATRE REVIEW
DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre has opened Frank Galati’s Tony Award winning play “The Grapes of Wrath.” The play is based on John Steinbeck’s novel, which was published in 1939, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for fiction; a film starring Henry Fonda received an Academy Award the following year. The film is still shown on cable from time to time.
Director Dave Alan Thomas’ production of this searing indictment of man’s cruel indifference to his fellow man is a winner on stage at Limelight. It is a history lesson that remains frighteningly relevant, and one you won’t want to miss. Be sure to read the insightful Director’s Notes in the program for commentary on the issues explored in the drama in the context of current global unrest and the related migrations of troubled refugees throughout the world.
Steinbeck’s plot follows the impoverished Joad family as, displaced from their farm by the landowner, they migrate from the parched land of Oklahoma expecting to find work and a better life in the fields and orchards of California. The family struggles to maintain pride, dignity, and daily sustenance when they find the good life they hoped for in the West is out of reach; instead, they face hostility, exploitive labor practices, and political indifference to their plight.
The large cast of varying ages gives an excellent portrayal of many interesting personalities.
Chris MacEwan as Tom Joad, the out-on-parole son, gives a special strength to his actions as he vows to reverse society’s injustices. We last saw Chris as Bill Sykes in “Oliver” here at Limelight. Jessica Ferris as the maternal Ma Joad is the practical one, her strength apparent as she tries to hold her family together. This role is quite a contrast to her last performance at Limelight as the flighty therapist in “Beyond Therapy.” Will Nance is Jim Casy, the preacher who has lost his faith in God but not in mankind. He becomes heroic when he attacks the police while defending a migrant.
Also impressive is Jim Warren as Pa Joad, a broken man, who previously was able to earn a living and support his family as a sharecropper, but can no longer do so. Warren, in his debut here, appeared previously in OPCT’s “White Christmas” and ABET’s “One Man, Two Guvnors.” And for those old enough to remember the 1950’s TV show, “Ma and Pa Kettle,” you will find Mr. Warren is a dead ringer for the hillbilly co-host, Percy Kilbride!
Stellar performances abound in this classic with Vanessa Warner and Rich Nowell as the grandparents, Bob Mandzi as Uncle John, Brendon Bailey as Al Joad, Joseph Stearman as Noah, Maria Tolzmann as Rose of Sharon, Andy Wallapher as Connie, McKayla Minor as Ruthie, and Gavin Downs as Winfried. Others in feature roles include Keith Schegel (Narrator) Jim Cadigan (Weedpatch Camp Director), Evan Gould (Man Going Back / Muley Graves), Hazel Robinson (Mrs. Wainwright), Amy Tillotson (Elizabeth Sandry), Emily Cook (Aggie Wainwright), and James “Dez” Desmond (Floyd Knowles). Rounding out the cast in the ensemble were Kyle Thompson, Will Gooden, Simone Glomboski, and Madison Mintzer. Providing the music around the camp fire and elsewhere were Ella Romaine (Singer/Guitar), Rose Frances (Violin) and James Desmond (Ukulele).
The Grapes of Wrath is an epic story of a dark time in the history of our country and one that will make you think. There is a bit of earthy but not gratuitous language: these characters were facing a bleak future filled with the very real possibility of death by starvation. This play will linger in your mind long after the final curtain comes down.
Set Designer Carl Liberatore used the entire stage area, filling the walls with weathered wood that suggested the shacks that farm workers of the period frequently called home. A unique truck, powered by humans in this staging, was constructed for the Joads to travel to California; a trip of almost two thousand miles. Limelight used some special effects to create storms and a flooding river. Costumer Lorraine Rokovitz obviously spent a lot of time in thrift shops accumulating the drab vintage inspired clothing needed for this large cast. The costuming did much to portray the depths of their poverty.
Limelight’s version of “Grapes” has Shelli Long as Musical Director, and songs from the era were used to enhance the atmosphere. We especially enjoyed the most upbeat scene, when the labor camp had a square dance.
Dave Alan Thomas is no stranger to St. Augustine audiences and we have raved about his talents in starring roles in “Spamalot,” The Adams Family,” and “Death of a Salesman.” He was also marvelous in “Pirates of Penzance” at Orange Park Community Theatre” and “La Cage Aux Folles” at Players By the Sea. As a director he adds another impressive play to his resume with “Grapes of Wrath;” he has previously directed “Gross Indecency,” “Blood Brothers,” and “Red.”
The Production Staff included Director, Dave Alan Thomas: Stage & Production Manager, Amanda Arany; Sound & Light Design, Miles Mosher; Costumer, Lorraine Rokovitz; Assistant Stage Manager & Dance Captain, Izabella Unice; Musical Director & Properties Supervisor, Shelli Long; Set Designer, Carl Liberatore; and Limelight Executive Director, Beth Lambert.
“Grapes” is not done often, as it requires a large talented cast and is physically very demanding. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this Award Winning play.
This play opened on January 22, 2016 and runs through Valentine’s Day, February 14, on the Matuza Main Stage in St. Augustine. Show times are 7:30 pm during Thursday-Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. For reservations and additional information, call 904-825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org.