The Grapes Of Wrath

Rebecca Varidel
22nd Jul 2019

New Theatre presents: John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH by Frank Galati

6 August to 7 September 2019 >>

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

Across the Midwest of America in the 1930s, a combination of dust storms which devastated farmlands and the eviction of tenant farmers drove thousands to leave their homes and hit the road, desperately hoping to find work and a better life in the fertile valleys of California.

The Joads are one such family. Loading their few possessions onto a battered old truck, they join the great migration west along Route 66, dealing with intolerance, exploitation, death and deprivation along the way. But when they reach their ‘promised land’, the family’s dreams are dashed by the realities of the Great Depression.

Renowned first as a novel, winning John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize, and then as an Academy Award-winning motion picture starring Henry Fonda, this acclaimed adaptation was Steppenwolf Theatre’s first Broadway production and won the Tony Award for Best Play.

Based on Steinbeck’s person journey through the migrant camps of 1930s California, The Grapes of Wrath is an epic story of courage, determination, and survival against the odds. It is a soaring and deeply moving affirmation of goodness and strength in the face of adversity and the indomitability of the human spirit.

The Grapes of Wrath is an epic story, and this play is epic in its proportions. Director Louise Fischer has assembled one of the largest casts seen on the New Theatre stage (and there have been some biggies). "We have 18 actors in the company, ranging in age from 12 to 70 years, and as the play has 45 characters, many are doubling and tripling roles. As you can imagine, it's been something of a logistical nightmare organising rehearsals - and they're not only acting, there's singing and dancing as well."

The New has always been passionate about telling socially significant stories, and this classic tale of migrants seeking a better life will resonate strongly with those of us living in contemporary Australia, the 'promised land' for so many from the world's current trouble-spots.

"I was strongly attracted to the scope of this play, and the profound humanity of the story." says Fischer. "Pursuing your dreams and searching for a better life are intrinsic human qualities. Frank Galati has managed to craft a magnificent theatrical text out of Steinbeck's sweeping novel, marrying both epic scenes and intimate moments, and it's been thrilling to work with the actors and my design and production team to flesh it out and find our own style of storytelling."

Fischer is also Artistic Director of New Theatre, with her most recent production being last year's hit August: Osage County. "Ironically, The Grapes of Wrath has a strong connection to August: Osage County; the latter is a tale of modern-day Oklahoma, and its older characters are profoundly affected by childhoods spent in the Dustbowl of the 1930s. Plus - both plays were originally developed and produced by Steppenwolf Theatre Company."

Tom Bannerman has created another superlative set, a module construction of wooden platforms on wheels, configured to represent different elements including the Joad's truck and the migrant camps. Costume designer Sharna Graham, on her first New Theatre production, is creating 1930s period outfits for 45 characters, a massive task requiring much ingenuity to compensate for a minimal budget. Michael Schell and David Cashman, who both worked on August: Osage County, are responsible respectively for Lighting and Sound Design/Musical Direction, and Victoria Lewis is teaching the company the intricacies of barn dancing.

The cast is a mix of actors making their New Theatre debuts (including 12 year old Loki Texilake as 'Winnifred' - a gender-switch on the youngest Joad, Winfield) and many we're welcoming back: James Bean (August: Osage County, The Clean House), Caroline Levien (The Diary of Anne Frank, The Heidi Chronicles), Madeline MacRae (Collaborators, The Little Dog Laughed), Andy Simpson (Collaborators), Angus Evans (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and Rowena McNicol (The Diary of Anne Frank).

Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Peter David Allison, William Baltyn, James Bean, Shayne de Groot, Jennie Dibley, Simon Emmerson, Angus Evans, Peter Irving Smith, Brittany Johnson, Caroline Levien, Madeline MacRae, Ryan Madden, Kirsty McKenzie, Rowena McNicol, Andrew Simpson, Libby Stirling, Loki Texilake
Director: Louise Fischer
Set Designer: Tom Bannerman
Lighting Designer: Michael Schell
Sound Designer: David Cashman
Costume Designer: Sharna Graham
Vision Designer: Christina Hatzis
Choreographer: Victoria Lewis
Fight Director: Kyle Rowlands
Assistant Director: Brett Heath
Production Manager: Rosane McNamara
Stage Manager: Alexis Worthing
ASM: Shayne de Groot
Operator: Ricci Costa