By Christopher Null, Editor
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending “The Grapes of Wrath,” my first theatrical performance from the Center Stage Theatre production at St. Charles Community College. From first glance when you see that well-decorated set of an old ghost town, you immediately get the sense of tragedy lurking in the room. The next thing to come popping out from the stage is a series of legitimate photos from the Great Depression supported by a slice of FDR’s famous first inaugural address to instill hope with a bit of fear for the lives of the everyday American back in the 1930’s.
The stage then comes to light with Jim Casey (Dennis Mahlin) an elderly sweet ex-preacher, sitting around a lonely camp fire, singing and talking the night away to himself in a kind tone. Then, Tom Joad (Mike McPartland), the story’s protagonist, comes wandering in. Tom, just being released from prison for murder, is in search of his family with Casey as a trusted companion. The Joad family has fallen on hard times after they lose their farm and have aspirations to drive out to California after hearing of fields of work being available to the masses. Along the way for supposed greener pastures, the family experiences losses and conflict with the law that put everyone’s morals and faith into question.
This whole cast is worthy of great recognition, but a few actors that standout include Jake Jerome Reynolds, Hayden Hayes, and Austin Hill. These actors greatly succeeded in performing multiple characters from comedic relief to key roles. Other performers such as Courtney Hooker playing Ma Joad portrayed her motherly role with such pain, you feel her love in every line she delivers to her last. And, Bailey Rough as Rose of Sharon, a young lady trying to make it in the world with the support of her family while months pregnant, plays her role in spectacular splendor. Though some habits may have been slightly overdone, like everyone that smokes coughs after each puff, all the actors delivered a committed performance.
Frank Galati’s adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” was directed by SCC’s own Hal Berry. The timing of the songs between scenes, the choice of backlight, and the stage props are marvelously constructed to bring a sense of the Great Depression onto the stage. A reconstructed old jalopy is the center piece of many scenes and is cleverly taken apart for multiuse. At no point during the play do you believe you could be anywhere else but in the vast trails westward, the Hooverville in California, or an old barn caught in a restless storm.
If you have yet to attend anything theatrical production from SCC’s Center Stage Theatre, you are surely missing out. From all levels of craftsmanship, this rendition of “The Grapes of Wrath” is one to move you.