The Grapes of Wrath. Based on the novel by John Steinbeck. Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati. Directed by Chris Baldock. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. Until February 29. Bookings: canberrarep.org.au or 62571950
Director Chris Baldock has once again shown his theatrical mastery in his starkly realistic and harrowing portrayal of society's disadvantaged and marginalised victims of social inequality.
Following on from his highly successful productions of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge and The Laramie Project, Baldock again explores the nature of injustice and social oppression in Canberra Repertory's staging of Frank Galati's adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Steinbeck's realist saga of the trials and tribulations of tenant farmers in Oklahoma in 1939 has been staged in this powerful and moving production with a detailed eye for authenticity and sensitive empathy for Steinbeck's battlers.
The Joad family, evicted from their farm and deprived of their subsistence, are forced to leave the dust bowl of Oklahoma for the greener pastures of California. Galati's adaptation telescopes the vast panorama of Steinbeck's novel into key moments of the family's tortuous struggle to survive. Galati's sensitive and faithful adaptation still manages to capture the sheer emotive force of Steinbeck's power of word and image with narrative passages from the novel that flesh out the action.
Every attempt has been made in this impressively staged production to capture the spirit of Steinbeck's condemnation of injustice and the exploitation of the innocent victims of natural disaster and unfeeling authority. Baldock and his team pay due homage to the chillingly prophetic nature of the relevance of the Joad family's agonising experience.
The play's outstanding production team deserves the highest commendation for realising Baldock's stunning set design, gathering authentic props and costumes and creating an atmospheric music score and sound effects with a special mention of Jamie Boyd's violin playing to enhance the mood of this production. Every aspect of Rep's staging of this moving, poignant and bitterly relevant adaptation provokes reaction and indignation at the treatment of good people at the hands of authority and opportunistic exploitation.
Baldock's large cast do him proud. As the central character Tom Joad, James McMahon finds the right balance between the unassuming young man, returned from prison, and the angry warrior for equality and fair treatment. Karen Vickery gives another tour de force performance as Ma, the matriarch determined to keep the family together on the arduous journey along Route 66 and across the Mojave desert.
Through death and desertion Ma keeps her resolve in a salute to the pioneer woman's spirit and resilience. Amy Dunham gives a heartrending performance as Rose of Sharon, the daughter who dreams of a settled life. Dunham's soulful rendition of Let me die in my footprints is beautifully sung from the very soul of deep longing. Her final act of human kindness offers hope in the darkness of deep despair.
Michael Sparks gives a thoroughly natural and believable performance as itinerant former preacher Jim Casy who befriends Tom and in true Christian spirit makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect human rights.
Rep's production challenges and confronts our humanity. It is a timely reminder of our duty to act with compassion and oppose oppression. The Grapes of Wrath has set the benchmark high for Rep's 2020 season.