The current show at URI is the 1990 Tony Award winning drama "The Grapes of Wrath" based on the 1940 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by John Steinbeck. The show is a powerful and deeply affecting stage version of one of the masterpieces of American literature. The play conveys the timeless message of the persistence and strength of the human spirit as it battles against the adversities of nature and an uncaring society. The story of the Joad family takes place during the Great Depression and depicts their flight from the poverty of the dust bowl of Oklamhoma to California hoping to find work and a better life. Led by the indomitable Ma Joad, who is determined to keep her family together at all costs and by the volatile young Tom Joad, an ex-con who grows impatient with the intolerance and exp;oitation which they encounter. Director Bryna Wortman takes her 30 member cast on a multimedia trip to the early 1930's complete with slides of the real people of that time, showing how well the Steinbeck story holds up today with hunger and poverty still rampant in the wealthiest nation in the world.
Bryna chooses some of the most talented people to handle these roles. Erin Olson tackles the role of Ma Joad and infuses her with such compassion and warmth but a strong backbone to confront all the obstacles thrown in her way. Her strong acting prowess makes her the center of this show. Joe Short is dynamic as the energetic son, Tom Joad. His line delivery and expressive actions are excellent in this huge role. The moral center of the show is the former preacher, Jim Casy played by Jordan Eastwood. Even though this character denies wanting to do the right thing, he does it anyway. Jordan makes Jim someone the audience roots for, doing a wonderful acting job in this role.
Some of the other family members include Patrick Cullen II as the strapping young son, Al who is more interested in girls every stop they make, brings humor to this country boy, Nicholas Foehr as the constantly worrying Pa Joad, Dan DaCunha as Uncle John who hides behind his harmonica playing to keep the secret of how his wife died accidentally and Gillienne Nadeau as the pregnant, Rose of Sharon who's act of kindness after a terrible loss helps to save a dying man. Just to name a few of the other numerous cast members: Jim Bagley as the demented Mayor of Hooverville who is hilarious in this role, (he also leads the onstage musicians while strumming his guitar playing some beautiful country music to set the mood) Marcus Stacy gives a powerful portrayal of a man heading back who has lost his wife and two sons, (he also plays a mean fiddle in the show) William Newton and Laura Summer give humor in the first act as Granpa and Granma Joad, Patrick Poole plays Tom Joad's friend, Muley who tells him about the devastation to their Oklahoma propertywhile Brad Kirton plays Floyd who explains how life is unfair in California and Kyle Blanchette gives a moving portrayal as the son who wants to save his dying father at the close of the show. The rest of this talented cast deliver the goods in this heavy drama. So be sure to get to The University of Rhode Island's production of "The Grapes of Wrath" to see how the Great Depression affected folks back then. (Technical merits include the many scrims and set pieces by Christian Wittwer fit perfectly to show the sparseness of materials back in the 1930's. The Lightning on the scrim by Raymond Klunk is very realistic while the old fashioned truck built for the show is outstanding and is moved with ease during their long journey.)