The Grapes of Wrath (Macmillan Readers)

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9780230031050: The Grapes of Wrath (Macmillan Readers)

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Review:

When The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, America, still recovering from the Great Depression, came face to face with itself in a startling, lyrical way. John Steinbeck gathered the country's recent shames and devastations--the Hoovervilles, the desperate, dirty children, the dissolution of kin, the oppressive labor conditions--in the Joad family. Then he set them down on a westward-running road, local dialect and all, for the world to acknowledge. For this marvel of observation and perception, he won the Pulitzer in 1940.

The prize must have come, at least in part, because alongside the poverty and dispossession, Steinbeck chronicled the Joads' refusal, even inability, to let go of their faltering but unmistakable hold on human dignity. Witnessing their degeneration from Oklahoma farmers to a diminished band of migrant workers is nothing short of crushing. The Joads lose family members to death and cowardice as they go, and are challenged by everything from weather to the authorities to the California locals themselves. As Tom Joad puts it: "They're a-workin' away at our spirits. They're a tryin' to make us cringe an' crawl like a whipped bitch. They tryin' to break us. Why, Jesus Christ, Ma, they comes a time when the on'y way a fella can keep his decency is by takin' a sock at a cop. They're workin' on our decency."

The point, though, is that decency remains intact, if somewhat battle-scarred, and this, as much as the depression and the plight of the "Okies," is a part of American history. When the California of their dreams proves to be less than edenic, Ma tells Tom: "You got to have patience. Why, Tom--us people will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people--we go on." It's almost as if she's talking about the very novel she inhabits, for Steinbeck's characters, more than most literary creations, do go on. They continue, now as much as ever, to illuminate and humanize an era for generations of readers who, thankfully, have no experiential point of reference for understanding the depression. The book's final, haunting image of Rose of Sharon--Rosasharn, as they call her--the eldest Joad daughter, forcing the milk intended for her stillborn baby onto a starving stranger, is a lesson on the grandest scale. "'You got to,'" she says, simply. And so do we all. --Melanie Rehak

From the Inside Flap:

A heart-wrenching full-cast adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Steinbeck, starring Jeffrey Donovan and Shirley Knight. Set during the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath tells the powerful story of the Joad family's trek from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the promise of a new life in California. But what they find threatens to rip apart their lives, and sever the ties that bind them together. Starring Shirley Knight as Ma Joad, Frank Galati's play finds its timeless heart in the generous spirit of the common man.

A L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring:

Shirley Knight as Ma Joad

Jeffrey Donovan as Tom Joad

Emily Bergl as Rose of Sharon

Michael Buie as Connie and others

Daniel Chacon as Al Joad

Maurice Chasse as Deputy Sheriff and others

Shannon Cochran as Mrs. Wainwright and Elizabeth Sandry

Trista Delamere as 2nd Narrator and Al's Girl

Francis Guinan as Jim Casy

Charlie Matthes as Willy and others

Gas Station Attendant and Hooper Ranch Guard

Rod McLachlan as Uncle John

Robert Pescovitz as Pa Joad

Joel Rafael as Car Salesman and Man with Guitar

Stephen Ramsey as 1st Narrator and others

Nick Sadler as Agricultural Officer and others

Andy Taylor as Gas Station Owner and others

Floyd Knowles and Weedpatch Camp Director

Todd Waring as Hooper Ranch Bookkeeper and others

Fredd Wayne as Grampa, Mayor of Hooverville and Camp Guard

Michael Weston as Noah Joad and others

Kate Williamson as Gramma and others

Live music performed by the Joel Rafael Band. Adapted by Frank Galati. Directed by Richard Masur. Recorded before a live audience at the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

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