The Grapes of Wrath

Adapted by Frank Galati from the novel by John Steinbeck
Poster design by kmt Designs Photos from the FSA-OWI collection of the Library of Congress

December 6 - 8 at 8 PM
December 9 at 2 PM
Power Center

background | newsletter | press release | synopsis | program | photographs

Background Information
John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902 of German and Irish ancestry. His father, John Steinbeck, Sr., served as the County Treasurer while his mother, Olive (Hamilton) Steinbeck, a former school teacher, fostered Steinbeck's love of reading and the written word. During summers he worked as a hired hand on nearby ranches, nourishing his impression of the California countryside and its people.

After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck attended Stanford University. Originally an English major, he pursued a program of independent study and his attendance was sporadic. During this time he worked periodically at various jobs and left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue his writing career in New York. However, he was unsuccessful in getting any of his writing published and finally returned to California. His first novel, Cup of Gold was published in 1929, but attracted little attention. His two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To a God Unknown, were also poorly received by the literary world.

Steinbeck married his first wife, Carol Henning in 1930. They lived in Pacific Grove where much of the material for Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row was gathered. Tortilla Flat (1935) marked the turning point in Steinbeck's literary career. It received the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal for best novel by a California author. Steinbeck continued writing, relying upon extensive research and his personal observation of the human condition for his stories. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) won the Pulitzer Prize. During World War II, Steinbeck was a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches were later collected and made into Once There Was a War.

John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "...for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception." Throughout his life John Steinbeck remained a private person who shunned publicity. He died December 20, 1968, in New York City His ashes were placed in the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Salinas.
- from the National Steinbeck

Frank Galati
A well-known playwright and director, Frank Galati won two Tony Awards for adapting and directing "The Grapes of Wrath," which premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre, subsequently playing at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Theatre in London, and on Broadway. "Grapes" also won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Best Direction. His screenplay (with Lawrence Kasdan) for "The Accidental Tourist" was nominated for an Academy Award. Galati directed the stage production of the award-winning musical "Ragtime" in Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and Broadway for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. He recently directed and developed the new musical "Seussical" in Boston and New York. Galati also directed the recent revival of "The Visit" on Broadway.

Associate director of the Goodman Theatre since 1987, he has directed "The Government Inspector," "She Always Said," "Pablo," "Passion Play," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "The Winter's Tale," "The Good Person of Setzuan," and the adaptations "Cry, The Beloved Country" and "Gertrude Stein: Each One As She May." He has staged many operas for the Lyric Opera of Chicago including the world premiere of "A View from the Bridge" by William Bolcolm and Arnold Weis. Under his direction, Steppenwolf has performed "As I Lay Dying" and "Everyman." He has received nine Joseph Jefferson Awards for his work in Chicago theater: one for acting, five for directing, and three for writing and adapting.

Galati is a member of the Northwestern University faculty, and holds multiple degrees from that institution (School of Speech '65, and graduate degrees in '67 and '71).

Background on the novel The Grapes of Wrath
The novel illustrates the diginity and spirit of man in desperate circumstances. It follows the fictional Joad family on their journey from Oklahoma's "dust bowl" of the 1930s to the "promised land" of California. The Joads, like hundreds of thousands of farmers and sharecroppers in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other states, were driven off the land during the "dust bowl" and Depression.

Steinbeck was extremely angry about the plight of the migrant workers. He knew the conditions in the camps and had seen the people suffering. He saw people starving in Visalia. The author made four trips to the migrants, getting to know the people. He learned their speech patterns, reactions, expressions and stories first-hand. One of the precursors of The Grapes of Wrath was a series of seven articles written for the San Francisco News. The series, called The Harvest Gypsies, was published later as a pamphlet entitled, "Their Blood is Strong."

Steinbeck kept a journal while writing The Grapes of Wrath. It recently was published as Working Day: The Journals of "The Grapes of Wrath" edited by Robert DeMott. In his commentary, the DeMott states "This journal records the sweaty process through which Steinbeck liberated his materials, gave them direction, shape, and form nearly commensurate with his primary vision. The Grapes of Wrat embodies the form of his devotion: in the entire 200,000-word handwritten manuscript the number of deletions and emendations is proportionately so few and infrequent as to be nearly nonexistent. At the bottom of the concluding manuscript page, Steinbeck, whose writing was normally miniscule, scrawled in letters an inch-and-a-half high, END#. It should have been cause for joyous celebration, but between bouts of bone-weary tiredness and nervous exhaustion, he felt only numbness, and maybe a little of the mysterious satisfaction that comes from giving his all. He certainly had no grasp of the book's effectiveness or its potential popularity, and he even warned The Viking Press against a large first printing."

The novel was controversial when it was published. Banned in certain places inthe United States, it was burned twice in Salinas. Since its initial publication, the novel has sold more than 14 million copies and has been translated into nearly every language of the world. Considered one of the most enduring works of fiction by an American author, it still sells 100,000 paperback copies a year. The Grapes of Wrath won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize and was the cornerstone of Steinbeck's 1962 Nobel Prize.
- from the National Steinbeck

About the Play
Renowned first as a novel, and then as a prize-winning motion picture, the story of the Joad family and their flight from the dust bowl of Oklahoma is familiar to all. Desperately proud, but reduced to poverty by the loss of their farm, the Joads pile their few possessions on a battered old truck and head west for California, hoping to find work and a better life. Led by the indomitable Ma Joad, who is determined to keep the family together at any cost, and by the volatile young Tom Joad, an ex-convict who grows increasingly impatient with the intolerance and exploitation which they encounter on their trek, the Joads must deal with death and terrible deprivation before reaching their destination--where their waning hopes are dealt a final blow by the stark realities of the Great Depression. And yet, despite the anguish and suffering which it depicts, the play becomes in the final essence a soaring and deeply moving affirmation of the indomitability of the human spirit, and of the essential goodness and strength which--then as now--resides in the hearts and minds of the "common man," throughout the world.

Holding to the simplicity and directness of the original novel, the play uses the sparest of technical means to convey its timeless message of the persistence and strength of the human spirit as it battles against the adversities of nature and an uncaring society.

"...majestic...leaves one feeling that the generosity of spirit he [Steinbeck] saw in a brutal country is not so much lost as waiting once more to be found." - New York Times

"This is, overall, a thrilling theatrical achievement that gets its power from the still sharp relevance of its human message..." - New York Post

Press Release

ANN ARBOR - The University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama presents the 1990 Tony Award-winning adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. Performances are December 6-8, 8:00 p.m., and December 9, 2:00 p.m., at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. Theatre Department faculty member Darryl V. Jones directs a cast of 38 in this epic production telling the story of the Joad family's Depression-era travels from Oklahoma's dust bowl to California, where they hope to find work and a bright new future.

Mr. Jones wears many different hats in the creation of this play. In addition to directing, he choreographs and has also prepared some of the vocal arrangements that comprise the show's rich musical backbone. "In almost every scene, there's a song," says Mr. Jones. "There is incredible bluegrass and folk music from that era that captures the mood of the nation. For example, I did a vocal arrangement of 'This Land is Your Land' for the show. What a lot of people don't know is that the third and fourth verses of that song are about people reaching California then being turned away. There was lots of similar music that pushed many emotional buttons, so I added more music than what the script called for. Music is a major part of this performance." Mr. Jones was assisted in coordinating the music by local musician Frank Pahl, who most recently composed the score to the UM production of "The Good Person of Szechwan," and assistant director Allison Soranno.

Another integral part of the show is the set. Because "The Grapes of Wrath" tells the tale of a family's distant travels and describes so much land and so many locations, Mr. Jones believes it must be performed on a large scale. The show's scenic designer, Tony Cisek, a guest designer who has previously collaborated with Mr. Jones on "A View From the Bridg"e and" Everlasting Arms" at two different theatre companies in Washington, DC, has decided to embrace that scale by featuring the openness of the Power Center's large stage. In describing the stage, Mr. Jones says, "It's America! We travel with this family out of Oklahoma and we have a glimpse inside a Hooverville. When they reach the Colorado River our actors literally take a swim on stage, and later they are caught in a California rainstorm. I've never seen the stage look so big!"

The technical demands of this play are extraordinary, and are realized by the show's talented production team. Director Darryl Jones received rave reviews last summer for his direction of "Spunk," a play adapted by George C. Wolfe from a story by Zora Neale Hurston, at the Kennedy Center's AFI National Film Theatre. Costume designer Edith Leavis Bookstein has designed over 100 shows for professional theatres and opera companies, including the UM production of "The Shattered Mirror." The lighting design will be done by Rob Murphy and the sound design by Henry Reynolds; both are Theatre Department faculty members.

Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, "The Grapes of Wrath" premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and later transferred to the West End and Broadway. There it was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning two for Best Direction and Best Play. Frank Rich of "The New York Times" declared the play "... majestic... leaves one feeling that the generosity of spirit Steinbeck saw in a brutal country is not so much lost as waiting once more to be found." Known for his sympathetic humor and keen social perception, John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939 after seeing the devastation that blanked the country during the Great Depression. The novel won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and was a cornerstone to the Nobel Prize in Literature he was awarded in 1962.

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $7 with ID. Tickets are available at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League on UM Central Campus. The Ticket Office is open from 10am-6pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted.

The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 Fletcher Street, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.

Click here to view the The Grapes of Wrath program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

David Jones
as Tom Joad
Sandra Abrevaya as Ma
and Brad Frazier as Al

Cast David Jones and Sandra Abrevaya

Cast Sandra Abrevaya, Alyson Grossman as Rose of Sharon and Katherine Banks as Granma