The Grapes of Wrath

by Frank Galati

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Grapes of Wrath is a play by Frank Galati that is based on John Steinbeck’s novel. The first show was at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. It is the story of the Joad family’s travels from the dust bowl in Oklahoma to California. The New York Times writes that the play offers a new spin on the book through its musical score and visual artistry. For example, it says in its review of the play:

Mr. Galati conveys the loneliness of the open road with headlights burning into an inky night, or with the rotating of the truck under a starry sky to reveal each isolated conversation of its inhabitants.

It is ultimately the story of the country’s search for self in times of economic hardship. The Joad’s are forced from Oklahoma when the banks evict them from their home. As tenant farmers, they are left with no work and decide to head west in search of jobs and property. The family takes historic Route 66, along with thousands of other families fleeing the same situation.

The stage at times is covered in campfires with banjo music accompanying them. Each campfire comes to represent the hundreds of other American families in the same predicament. The banjo music ties them to each together harmonically. The family is led by Ma, who maintains hope that California will hold a better future for them. Along the way both grandparents pass, and two family members decide to abandon the journey.

When they finally arrive in California, the family discovers that the west had nothing better in store for them. Corporate farms have taken over, and wages are at an all time low. The family comes across several agencies that are attempting to help the poor farmers through the New Deal Act; however, the demand is too high. In response to the brutal conditions, Casy, the father, turns to labor organizing. His son, Tom, witnesses him getting beaten during one of the strikes. Tom retaliates and kills the abuser. The Joads are forced to flee once again. The book ends with Tom leaving the family out of fear of arrest. The daughter, Rose of Sharon, births a stillborn baby, and the family must leave their home in the midst of a flood. They find a barn where a young boy and his starving father are staying. To save the man, Rose of Sharon offers her breast milk to him. In their review, The New York Times describes this particular scene as selfless and biblical.

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