The ghost of Tom Joad
The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck’s panoramic novel of dirt-poor, Depression-era Okies making a desperate trek to California still packs a punch. And Sacramento Theatre Company’s new production (based on Frank Galati’s 1988 script) delivers the goods.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Steinbeck’s novel, and poverty-driven mass migration, bank foreclosures and homeless encampments are still with us. So this story of the Joad family—which loses its farm, buys a funky old truck and makes a desperate trip in the vain hope of finding work—still speaks clearly.
Cast members Laura Kaya and Matt K. Miller play Ma and Pa, using every resource at their disposal to hold the fracturing family together. Kirk Blackinton (son Tom Joad) displays an idealistic gleam in his eyes and a tendency to lose his cool in the heat of the moment. Kurt Johnson—not generally associated with spiritually inclined characters—actually does pretty well as Reverend Jim Casy (a former Holy Roller conflicted with doubt). And it’s hard to take your eyes off young Alissa K. Doyle (a recent Sacramento State University grad) as Rose of Sharon, coming of age. Veteran Vada Russell (still actin’ after all these years) plays Grandma, too frail to survive the journey. The suitably soiled-looking costumes by Jessica Minnihan lend a touch of grit.
The original music by Sam Misner and Megan Pearl Smith (who comprise the Americana duo Misner & Smith and also play cameo roles) is a significant plus, and director Michael Stevenson manages to use the small STC stage to focus the intimate conversations, the cramped ride on the California-bound truck, etc.
Side note: Old-timers may recall that STC staged this script 20 years ago. That 1994 version featured a realistic onstage “riverbank” that my colleagues Patti Roberts and Peter Haugen (who reviewed that production) remember so fondly that they’re still talking about how good it looked, two decades on.