Ponca Playhouse Presents "The Grapes of Wrath"

From Researchandideas
Jump to navigationJump to search
The Joad family makes there way west from Oklahoma to California in Ponca Playhouse's production of "The Grapes of Wrath" directed by Kelli Graves. Front from right to left, Don Jorgenson, Matt Graves, Haley Lockwood, Blake Brown, and Tina Brown. Rear: Chance Mayhall and Mallory Stolhand. (Photo credit: Hugh Pickens)

Ponca Playhouse announces that beginning July 17, the Playhouse will present John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," a play about the indominable strength and pride that resides in the hearts and minds of the men and women who sought jobs, land, and dignity in the darkest days of the great depression.

Oklahoma Pride

For the past two years Ponca Playhouse has presented an annual play honoring Oklahoma and her people called the "Oklahoma Pride Series." In 2012 the Playhouse presented 12 sold-out performances of "The Broken Statue," that told the story of Oklahoma Governor, Philanthropist, and Oil Pioneer E. W. Marland and his wife Lydie. In 2013, the Playhouse presented an encore performance of "The Broken Statue" to sold out crowds.

Now in the third year of the "Oklahoma Pride" series Ponca Playhouse tells the story of the Joad family's odyssey from Oklahoma to California. 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 that 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 that 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 that—then as now—reside in the hearts and minds of the "common man," throughout the world.

The Story of "The Grapes of Wrath"

Once upon a time in Oklahoma, the weather went haywire, the rain stopped, dust storms blew away the top soil, crops failed, farmers couldn’t pay their mortgages, banks foreclosed, and Okies fled to the promised land of California. "The Grapes of Wrath” has been compared to Exodus says Marty Fulgate. "Unlike God, 1930s California growers did not keep their promises. They blanketed Oklahoma with flyers promising a land of milk, honey and good jobs — a scam. But thousands of disposed tenant farmers believed it. They’d pull up stakes, arrive in California and find a few hundred jobs at starvation wages — take it or leave it. Sad history. And, if you know a little history, you know what the Joads are in for. They are on a road to nowhere. You know it, but you’re still swept up in the journey."

"The Grapes of Wrath" is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962. At the time of publication, Steinbeck's novel "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read." According to The New York Times it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940. In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. "The Grapes of Wrath" is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.

Part of its impact stemmed from its passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and in fact, many of Steinbeck's contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'. Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers' spirit.

The Joad Family

Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.

Upon arrival, they find little hope of making a decent wage, as there is an oversupply of labor, a lack of laborers' rights, and the big corporate farmers are in collusion, while smaller farmers are suffering from collapsing prices. A gleam of hope is presented at Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency that has been established to help the migrants, but there is not enough money and space to care for all of the needy. As a Federal facility, the camp is also off-limits to California deputies who constantly harass and provoke the newcomers.

In response to the exploitation of laborers, there are people who attempt to organize the workers to join a labor union, including Casy, who had gone to jail after taking the blame for attacking a rogue deputy. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers on a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. Tom Joad witnesses Casy's fatal beating and kills the attacker, becoming a fugitive. The Joads later leave the orchard for a cotton farm, where Tom is at risk of being identified for the homicide he committed.

He bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn; however, Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. When the rains arrive, the Joads' dwelling is flooded, and they move to higher ground. In the final chapter of the book the family take shelter from the flood in an old barn, where inside they find a young boy and his father who is dying of starvation. Rose of Sharon takes pity on the man and offers him her breast to feed off and save him from dying. This final act is significant as it is the only action taken by a member of the Joad family that is not futile.

The Okie Spirit

But in real life the Okie spirit finally triumphed. According to Charlotte Allen, Okies ultimately found a better standard of living. "Many of them quickly moved out of farm work into better-paying jobs in the oil industry and, when World War II broke out, in the burgeoning Southern California defense plants. By 1950, most Okies had secured comfortable working-class and lower-middle-class lifestyles, and some had downright prospered." It has been said that some Oklahomans who stayed and lived through the Dust Bowl see the Okie migrants as being quitters who fled Oklahoma. But most Oklahoma natives are as proud of their Okies who made good in California as are the Okies themselves. In the later half of the 20th century, there became increasing evidence that any pejorative meaning of the term Okie was changing; former and present Okies began to apply the label as a badge of honor and symbol of the Okie survivor attitude.

Gerald W. Hassam writes in his book "The Other California: The Great Central Valley in Life and Letters," that the progeny of the Okies clawed their way west during the Depression, but matured and stabilized and today have assumed a fair share of the economic and political power in California, especially in the Great Central Valley. Fittingly, second-generation Okie migrants in California have reintroduced pride in the term Okie. "I'm proud of my folks and everyone else who came out here and were called Okies, and who made new lives for themselves," says Jim Young, chancellor of Bakersfield College.

Tony Award for Best Play

Frank Galati’s groundbreaking adaptation of Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1990 and has become a national treasure. Infused with live music, this wonderfully theatrical production tells the story of a nation through the eyes of the Joad family, driven from the dust bowl of Oklahoma toward the promised land of California in search of a new home, jobs and dignity. Part naturalistic epic, part road trip and part inspirational gospel, "The Grapes of Wrath" is a soaring affirmation of the goodness, strength and perseverance of the human spirit. "This is, overall, a thrilling theatrical achievement that gets its power from the still sharp relevance of its human message," wrote the NY Post.

The Playhouse Production

"The Grapes of Wrath" is based on the novel by John Steinbeck, adapted by Frank Galati, and directed by Kelli Graves. Cast members include Tom Joad played by Matt Graves, Jim Casy played by Larry King, Ma Joad played by Tina Brown, Pa Joad played by Don Jorgenson, Grandma played by Beverly Graves, Grandpa played by Red Graves, Uncle John played by Caleb Stinson, Al played by Ryan Brown, Noah played by Chance Mayhall, Rose of Sharon played by Haley Lockwood, Connie Rivers played by Blake Brown, Ruthie played by Mallory Stohlhand, Winfield played by Daniel Graves, Narrator played by Faith Greenhaen, Elizabeth Sandry played by Nancy Taylor, Mrs. Wainwright played by Sherrie Smith, Muley Graves/ Man going back played by Claude Bradley, Child of man in barn played by Dyna Hehl, Aggie Wainwright played by Maggie Shuart, Weedpatch Camp Nurse played by Jenni Peck, and Al’s Girl played by Susan Shriner. Ensemble members include Mariah Gonzales, Sierra Bridges, Saira Smith, Rachael Carter, Samantha Dunnigan, Virginia Jones, Emalee Kelly, Kaleigh Brock, Maisy Kasagnoc, Kyle Mcdougall, Joshua Graves, Gary Kent, and Rebecca Marsh.

Signature sponsors for the production are Hugh and Dr. Sj. J. Pickens, Deloris Pickens, American Trades Contracting/ Josh Stevens, Phillips 66, and Fred Boettcher Law Group.

Performance Dates

Performance dates for the eight performances of "The Grapes of Wrath" are: July 17, 18, 19, 20, and July 24, 25, 26, 27. Tickets are on sale at the box office of Ponca Playhouse for $20 or by calling the Playhouse at 580-765-5360. Box Office Hours: Tuesday through Thursday – 10 am to 3 pm. Phone: 580-765-5360. More information about the play is available on the web at :www.OklahomaPride.com.