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Milton Presents Grapes of Wrath A cast of 35 students from Class I through Class VI, directed by faculty member Debbie Simon, tells the story of the Joad family’s Depression-era travels from Oklahoma’s dust bowl to California, where they hope to find work and a bright new future.

The performing arts department presents Frank Galati’s 1990 Tony Award-winning adaptation of Steinbeck’s Grapes of the literary celebrates John Steinbeck’s 100th birthday on February 27. Galati’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath, premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and then played at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Theatre in London, and on Broadway. On Broadway the play was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning two for best direction and best play.

The technical demands of this play are extraordinary and faculty member Dar Anastas and her 12-member student crew have done a fabulous job meeting the complicated set and lighting needs. The stage has to become a wide range of settings, from a dust-blown Oklahoma farm to the migrant camps of California, with a river, a boxcar, a mini city of campfires and the length of Route 66. The central set piece is the truck in which the Joads make their journey. A multi-tiered stage and pivoting truck give the audience a sense of different locations and experiences. The use of bluegrass and folk music from that era captures the mood, while slides of the Dust Bowl give a historical perspective during transitional portions of the play. In Galati’s Grapes of Wrath the set is purposefully sparse in order to imitate the directness and simplicity of the original novel and convey the message of the persistence and strength of the human spirit.

Dressed in costumes of brown and gray hues, cast members must not only memorize their lines and cues, but also in react to the imaginary and play multiple roles. With very few props, the actors work hard to define each experience and move the audience through the story. “The Grapes of Wrath is a huge acting challenge,” Debbie Simon tells her cast. “You can not act without figuring out why you are doing what you are doing. Creating a believable reality for yourself does not come easy.”

The play is a real ensemble piece. “It takes a vast number of people to mount a performance of this magnitude,” says Debbie. Congratulations to each member of the performing arts department and the student actors, musicians, set builders and technicians for this energetic undertaking, consistent with the history and spirit of Milton theatre.