Theater Review: It’s a Difficult Journey to the Stage for The Grapes of Wrath
The key word for The Grapes of Wrath is “perseverance.” Not only does it apply to the dispossessed Joad family and the thousands of other Okies who trudged across America in search of work and survival during The Great Depression, but it also applies to the play’s audience. John Steinbeck’s 1939 grim realist novel, adapted for the stage by director Frank Galati and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1988, lacks much of what is considered theater’s basic building blocks: the drama is thin, the actual plot is wandering, and the straightforward tale makes no apologies for its lack of a true antagonist. It’s this honest, sometimes weary approach to Steinbeck’s iconic work that results in a play that’s trying at times and immensely rewarding at others.
Terry Martin has assembled a cast as vast and impressive as the Great Plains to tell the tale of the Joad family, Dust Bowl tenant farmers who dream of the paradise that surely must be awaiting them in fertile California. To have Cameron Cobb, Stephanie Dunnam, and Steven Pounders lead your cast is notable—to have actors such as Van Quattro, Austin Tindle, and Mary-Margaret Pyeatt in your ensemble is an embarrassment of riches.
Cobb conveys Tom Joad’s proud and volatile nature through quiet strength. His gruff, clipped speech and halting gait confirm that this is not a showy performance, but rather one that is allowed to simmer and build through the evening’s nearly three hours. When he delivers the speech that Henry Fonda famously turned into a battle cry in John Ford’s film version, Cobb’s Tom instead unleashes desperation and sadness.
Dunnam matches him step for step as no-nonsense Ma Joad, a woman who for her family’s sake continues to believe that a better life is coming, even as the graves are dug and the dreams blow away with the dust. She’s a comforting presence, leading the show with a sure hand and providing someone real for us to latch onto.
Pounders presents the wandering former preacher Jim Casy as an enigma, which helps somewhat to heighten the tension as the group makes its way west. Strong supporting performances from Conner Wedgeworth, as girl-crazy younger brother Al, Jason Johnson-Spinos, as simple older brother Noah, and Mikaela Krantz, as naïve sister Rose of Sharon, all help flesh out the Joad family to an extent—there’s still a passel of children and grandparents that go mostly silent.
Martin manages to keep the illusion of wide open spaces intact on Chris Pickart’s stirring, tilted set (hauntingly lit by Leann Ellis), never trading isolation for an overabundance of background actors. The sound designer isn’t identified in the program, but thanks to his or her work you can almost feel the great gusts of wind barreling through the set’s rickety wooden slats.
A four-person band, comprised of Sonny Franks, Dennis Bailey, Sara Bollinger, and Michelle Feldman, plays Michael Smith’s folk and blues-inspired music with aplomb. Whether it’s with a melancholy steel guitar or a rollicking banjo, moods are immediately established thanks to this talented quartet, and it’s difficult to imagine this production without it.
Though overly drawn-out and sometimes a touch too subdued, WaterTower Theatre’s ambitious tackling of Steinbeck’s grand saga ultimately reinforces the Pulitzer Prize-winning story’s relevance to today’s socio-economic problems. It’s a long and difficult—yet oddly rewarding—journey.
Published: D Magazine, Lindsey Wilson, April 15, 2013. (c) D Magazine
Photo Mark Oristano
THE GRAPES OF WRATH REVIEWED BY THE COLUMN
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Everybody knows something about The Grapes of Wrath. Even if you didn't read the novel by John Steinbeck in school or on your own, or seen John Ford's award-winning film starring Henry Fonda, you know a little something about it, the subject matter at least. That it's a story, fictional but based on true events, of The Dust Bowl of the early 1930's that plagued parts of our country's Great Plains area - Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado - and devastated farms, towns, and families by wiping out their way of life and means of existence in a matter of a few years or less. Forced off the land by the banks when the farmers had to default on their crop loans, or as sharecroppers, by the landowners themselves, the lure of the west and the overabundance of food and work in California led more than half a million people to pack their meager belongings and limp half way across the country to the beckoning green fields of the so-called promised land.
Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there.
Water Tower Theatre re-imagines Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in a production of great humanity.
Addison — Usually to make something shine you have to polish it, burnishing the texture away by forcing the irregularities down until you are left with an even, reflective surface. Not if you're Terry Martin directing The Grapes of Wrath at WaterTower Theatre.
Instead, he encourages these uneven, rough-edged characters to rise up from the pages of the required reading bookshelf and reveal their own particular shine. This is a dignified production that humbly gleams with its textured humanity.
Like the old pocket knife you got from an uncle on your birthday when what you wanted was a video game, it may take some time to appreciate this gift that speaks of harder things. But just like that gift, it will end up meaning a lot more.
This is Frank Galati's adaptation of the Steinbeck novel, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1990. If it you haven't thought of this story since high school, don't worry, it will all come back to you—sometimes with the help of a little narration from Sonny Franks, who also heads up the band, singing, playing the guitar and mandolin, doing a little ensemble work. You know, whatever he can do to pitch in.
It’s that kind of story, about those kinds of people, during those kinds of times.
On an engulfing open set of exposed lath by designer Chris Pickart, Tom Joad (Cameron Cobb) comes upon Jim Casey (Steven Pounders). Costumer Barbara Cox gives us enough information in the outfits that though both men have seen better days, Jim’s are farther afield than Tom’s.
Sharing Tom’s expensive “factory whiskey,” the two recollect and reconnect in that mythic way that only men in these novels can do. To their credit, Mr. Cobb and Mr. Pounders pull it off effortlessly and their chemistry will return as a talisman throughout the evening.
Tom is headed home from a blameless stint in prison for killing a man who “had a knife in him.” Jim was a preacher whom Tom's mother held in high esteem. The two discover the Joad homestead abandoned and the house pushed out of plumb. A fellow tells them that the Joads were forced out and where to find them.
This unexpected homecoming is the first of many incredible ill turns that Tom faces. What makes Cobb's performance noteworthy is his ability to take the unbelievable and make us believe. To lay himself open to the injustices without flinching is essential. John Steinbeck paves the road to California with the woes of Capitalism. Cobb takes the audience along for the ride. The long, bumpy ride.
The Joads reunite long enough to head out with the tide of the unfortunate multitudes. The depression and the dust bowl seemed to team up to dislodge the folks of the American heartland, and the river of people flowed west toward the promise of jobs.
As important as Cobb's earnest, simmering indignation and Pounders' wondering yet unpreachy spirituality are to the success of director Martin's spell, it's Stephanie Dunnam as Ma Joad who gives the audience the courage to sit still through these travails. Dunnam maintains a hope that isn't bounded by the circumstances of the play. She quickly comes to stand for steadfast feminine resolve.
Not that the men aren't strong. They just run the gamut. Pa Joad (Arvin Combs) is understanding to a fault, especially about Uncle John’s (Stan Graner) alcoholism. Al Joad (Conner Wedgeworth) is always trying to find a girl, and Connie Rivers (Austin Tindle) isn't too excited about the one he's got, the pregnant Rose of Sharon (Mikaela Krantz).
Director Martin and lighting designer Leann Ellis create intimate places to meet and mix them all, aided by the old truck that&'s loaded to the brim with everything the family is bringing, both physically and figuratively. Chances are there are aspects of each character's specific anxious determination that will draw you in. And that is when the people begin to disappear. Each loss takes a little out of you, whether you're sad to see them go, as in the case of loveable Grandma Joad (Carolyn Wickwire), or glad in the case of sullen Connie Rivers. Who they were and what they were risking seeps into you, and strips away some your own strength and resolve.
In California, the supply of people overwhelms the demand. Competition becomes fierce and people are worth less and less. Steinbeck makes the Joads' biggest threat their only hope, employing the bleak realities of these economics in order to drive home his point.
In the end, stripped of baby, clothes, everything, Rose of Sharon offers what last she has to give. What would you have done?
But really, though, the question being asked is: what do you do—not then, but now?
Cameron Cobb will be playing Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath" at WaterTower Theatre.
Cameron Cobb will be playing Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath" at WaterTower Theatre.
Lawson TaitteThe Dallas Morning News
Published: 03 April 2013 05:01 PM
ADDISON — Cameron Cobb thinks about performance stamina a lot. He has to. For the last 18 months, he has been the busiest actor on Dallas stages.
He played both a rock ’n’ roll version of the seventh U.S. president, in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in Freud’s Last Session, at Theatre Three. For his home company, Kitchen Dog Theater, he played a variety of roles, from a young boy to a nasty ghost, in The Turn of the Screw. And, lest we forget, he also took on every actor’s dream role, Hamlet, for Shakespeare Dallas.
Cobb, 37, did take a little time offstage to direct Kitchen Dog’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane and to help organize the joint venture between the AT&T Performing Arts Center and Shakespeare Dallas to produce readings of the Bard’s complete works.
Now he’s returning to the boards to take on another classic role, Tom Joad in WaterTower Theatre’s The Grapes of Wrath.
“I’ve had a lucky couple of years,” Cobb says. “Who doesn’t want to play Hamlet? Who doesn’t want to be the president and a rock star? What you have to figure out is how life’s challenges are to be dealt with while doing what we do.”
For Cobb, the myth of the starving artist has no appeal: During the day, he works as a real estate agent and produces commercial voice-overs.
Still, he’s been a force in Dallas theater for 17 years. After graduating from high school in Tyler, he started getting major parts at Undermain Theatre while still a junior at Southern Methodist University. Kitchen Dog co-artistic director Tina Parker, who co-starred with Cobb in his first Undermain show, The Deatherians, says there was something special about him.
“Cameron has ‘it.’ He gets onstage and eats up light and people want to look at him,” Parker says.
After SMU, Cobb moved to New York, but soon realized that theatrical scene wasn’t for him and concentrated on singing, playing and writing for his rock band, Fort Bragg.
“That’s where I learned performance endurance,” Cobb says. “With the music, you might have to change everything about the set you are playing. You have to learn how to feel an audience.”
When Cobb came back to Dallas eight years ago, he immediately got cast in Undermain’s A Number. Since 2008, he has mostly worked at Kitchen Dog. Only recently has he been casting his net wider.
The Grapes of Wrathdirector Terry Martin says he wasn’t familiar with Cobb when the actor emailed him that he would like to audition for the role of Tom Joad, which Henry Fonda played in John Ford’s 1940 film adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel. Martin says he’s glad he cast him.
“I had a mentor who said smart directors cast actors who don’t need them, then stay out of the actors’ way,” Martin says. “Cameron is so humble, such a hard worker. He’s willing to do anything it takes.”
To prepare, Cobb and his wife and daughter made a trip to Sallisaw, Okla., to soak up some local dialect and atmosphere. At a restaurant buffet there, he realized that the food was what he had grown up eating — his family was originally from Oklahoma.
Another way he tried to prepare was by watching the movie version, but he soon stopped it. He didn’t want it to influence the way he was playing Tom in Frank Galati’s stage adaptation.
“One night at rehearsal, someone said, ‘The way you’re doing the last big speech is totally different from Henry Fonda,’” Cobb recalls. “I said, ‘Good!’”
Whether it’s Hamlet or rock ’n’ roll, Cobb wants to do things his own way.
Plan your life
Through April 28 at WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. $20 to $40. 972-450-6232. watertowertheatre.org.
Summer Performing Arts Conservatory is back!
The popular Summer Performing Arts Conservatory is back! This summer’s camp runs June 17 -28, Mon, – Fri., 9 am to 5 pm. The Camp offers a unique, non-competitive, nurturing program for students who want to immerse themselves in a complete theatre arts experience both on stage and back stage. Check out the education section on our website for more details and to download the enrollment form.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH and THE DUST BOWL
Of all the droughts that have occurred in the United States, the drought events of the 1930s are widely considered to be the “drought of record” for the nation. The 1930s drought is often referred to as if it were one episode, but it was actually several distinct events occurring in such rapid succession that affected regions were not able to recover adequately before another drought began. The term Dust Bowl was coined in 1935 when an AP reporter, Robert Geiger, used it to describe the drought-affected south central United States in the aftermath of horrific dust storms. Although it technically refers to the western third of Kansas, southeastern Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the northern two-thirds of the Texas Panhandle, and northeastern New Mexico, the Dust Bowl has come to symbolize the hardships of the entire nation during the 1930s.
"Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes."
OUT OF THE LOOP FRINGE FESTIVAL: RAVE REVIEWS
Our Out of the Loop Fringe Festival is receiving rave reviews from all corners! Many of the shows are playing to sold-out crowds. Loop runs through March 17th. Tickets are just $10 per show or a Loop pass is just $65 (which allows you to see all of the shows during the Festival). Check out some of these reviews and see for yourself:
There is still time to see most of the shows in the Festival. Call the box office at 972-450-6232 for details and to make a reservation!
Saturday Morning Drama Classes for Children
WaterTower theatre now offers a series of new Saturday morning acting classes for children. The 7-week course, designed for children in grades 1 through 4, starts Saturday, March 23 and goes to Saturday, May 4, 2013. The cost is $315 per child.
Kim Borge will teach the classes. A graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Arts in Musical Theatre, Ms. Borge is a seasoned actress having performed in more than 40 productions locally. This fall she started teaching at WaterTower Theatre in the After School Drama Program at Anne Frank Elementary School.
The goal of the classes is to provide a platform for children to develop teamwork and listening skills, assist in confidence building, encourage creativity and other important life skills. To achieve this, the classes will provide an introduction to theatre and different cultures around the world, as well as an expansion of theatre knowledge. Some of the topics covered will include creative dramatics, improvisation, pantomime, script work, rhythm exercises, theatre techniques and terms, stage directions, enunciation and projection.
The classes will be held Saturday mornings from 9 am to 12 noon at WaterTower Theatre. The dates of the classes are Saturday, March 23, 30, April 6, 13, 20, 27 and May 4.
Enrollment is limited. For more information or to enroll, call Janeth Farnsworth, Patron Services Manager, WaterTower Theatre at 972-450-6228 or email jfarnsworth @watertowertheatre.org. More information on the classes is available at www.watertowertheatre.org
About Kim Borge
Kim Borge graduated from Texas Christian University in 2011 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, with an emphasis in Musical Theatre. Kim has performed in over 40 productions locally and has started teaching with WaterTower Theatre this past fall. Previously, Kim taught some summer camps with Plano Children’s Theatre. Some of her favorite roles include Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical (Regional Premiere, Level Ground Arts), Lily in Annie at Theatre Arlington, Sally in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown at Onstage in Bedford, and Roxie in Chicago at Greater Lewisville Community Theatre. Kim hopes to continue the process of growing as a performer and teaching kids what she has learned to make them more successful and confident in who they are.
About WaterTower Theatre:
Now in its 16th season, WaterTower Theatre began life in 1996 with 136 brave subscribers. Today, with over 2000 subscribers and a budget of $1.2 million, it consistently earns rave reviews in The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer, and other local publications. With 104 Dallas Theatre League Leon Rabin Award Nominations and 28 wins to its credit, as well as 17 Dallas Fort Worth Theatre Critics Forum Awards, WaterTower Theatre is home to the finest local talent.
A committed and intrepid producer of new work, the theatre has presented 5 world premiere productions and 13 regional premiere productions to date. WaterTower Theatre's tradition of world premiere programming includes the musicals Song of Motherhood and Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues. Dramatic world premieres include Free Fall with Sandy Duncan, Baptized to the Bone by Dave Johnson (which is enjoying healthy post-WaterTower Theatre life) and A Country Life, Producing Artistic Director Terry Martin’s southern adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Both Blind Lemon and A Country Life earned WaterTower Theatre a Dallas Theatre League Leon Rabin Award for Best New Work.
WTT is privileged to make its home at the Addison Theatre Centre, an award-winning flexible theatre space that can be reconfigured to accommodate each new production
WaterTower Theatre is a Constituent of Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre and a member of the Dallas Theatre League.
WaterTower Theatre gratefully acknowledges the support of:
WaterTower's Spotlight Gala 2013
Spotlight Gala 2013 to Be Held Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 7:00pm at the Addison Conference Centre
Denise Lee, Cedric Neal, the Tu-Tones and the Briefcase Blues will entertain more than 360 supporters at the event Chaired by Barbara Daseke
WaterTower Theatre’s 2013 Spotlight Gala will be held on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at the Addison Conference Center. The fundraising Gala is chaired by Barbara Daseke. The theme for this year’s Gala is Blues in the Night and will feature entertaining blues and jazz music by Denise Lee, Cedric Neal, the Tu-Tones and the Briefcase Blues.
The Gala Committee consists of John Ackley, Maureen Anderson, Barbara Bigham, Derek Blount, April Bosworth, Doug Boster, Anita Braun, Shannon Brame, Mark Brooks, Ben Cunningham, Collin Duwe, Janeth Farnsworth, Scott Blakeslee, Elizabeth Fratantuono, Stan Graner, Terry Martin, Katie Myatt, Suzie Oliver, Karol Omlor, Greg Patterson, Corky Pledger, Debbie Staggs, Joyce Sanders. Barbara’s sub-committee chairs are: April Bosworth (Silent and Live Auction), Corky Pledger (Cuisine) and Derek Blount (Underwriting and Ticket Sales).
Design and décor is by Todd Eventsand catering support is provided by Doug Boster Catering. Cuisine is underwritten by The Marriott Quorum/Addison and The Intercontinental Dallas as well as Dawn’s Catering and La Spiga Bakery. The selection of fine wines are underwritten by Goody Goody, Inc., and liquor by MillionAir Dallas.
Blues in the Night ($10,000):
Barbara and Don Daseke
New Orleans ($4,000):
The Freedom Foundation
Bourbon Street ($2000):
Armor Walth Management
Barbara and Bob Bigham
Roz and Merv Benjet
Derek Blount/Sovereign Bank
Larry Bryd/All-Plastics Moulding
Shannon Brame, Anita Braun and Nick Even
Ben Cunningham/Liberty Capital Bank
Rodney Hand/Addison – the magazine of the North Dallas Corridor/Patron Magazine
Marriott Quorum Addison
Methodist Hospital for Surgery
Robert Mayer, Jr.
Joyce Sanders and Bob Lebovitz
For more information on the 2013 Spotlight Gala, please contact Greg Patterson, Director of Development, at 972.450.6227 or email@example.com .
About the Chair
Barbara Daseke is President of Barbara Elliott Interiors, a design firm specializing in luxury hotels and high-end homes across the country. Her extensive community service and volunteering includes serving on the board of TACA, a non-profit organization supporting the performing arts of North Texas, and on the board of the Dallas Symphony. Barbara works on many fundraising projects for Women of WaterTower Theatre (WOW!), the Dallas Symphony and the Dallas Museum of Art.. Barbara’s husband, Don, is the past President and past Chairman of the Board for WaterTower Theatre.
About the Artists
Cedric Neal is no stranger to WaterTower Theatre. He partied in Rockin’ Christmas Party, schooled audiences in A Brief History of White Music and was featured in the acclaimed production of It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues. Cedric, most recently, performed in the award winning production of Dreamgirls at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. His characterization of James "Thunder" Early, in that production, garnered him a Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor- Musical. Cedric made his Broadway debut in the Tony Winning Revival of The Gershwins' Porgy And Bess, where his voice is featured on the cast recording as "Crab Man." He played the role of Sporting Life, opposite Audra McDondald (Bess) and Norm Lewis (Porgy.) Cedric attended the prestigious Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and studied Classical Vocal Performance at the esteemed Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY. Cedric was one of the original nine members of Dallas Theater Center's Hal & Diane Brierley Resident Acting Company. At Dallas Theater Center he starred in seven mainstage productions, including the title character in the Critically Acclaimed, The Who's Tommy. His theater work awards include the Leon Rabin, several Column Awards, B. Iden Payne, Austin Critic's Circle, Dallas Voice, D/FW Critics Forum; Texas Legacy of Success and D.C. Metro Theatre Arts.
Denise Lee is an award-winning singer and actress with a career that spans over two decades. She just performed her one woman show 'Denise Lee Sings the Divas of American Music' at the Winspear Opera House in Hamon Hall. She has opened for the likes of Joan Rivers and has performed for Maya Angelou. Inspired by singers such as Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Martina McBride and India Arie, her voice has captivated audiences from Fort Worth's Bass Hall to the CJW Jazz Clubs in China and everywhere in between. She has performed at regional theatres around the country and, in North Texas, at such theatres as Dallas Theater Center inTo Kill A Mockingbird and The Wiz and Bass Hall in The Wizard of Oz and Showboat. She also co-starred with Dick & Jerry Van Dyke in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. At WaterTower Theatre, which she considers home, Denise has performed inRockin’ Christmas Party, Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, The Old Settler, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Doubt.
Briefcase Blues is a live musical show-band and revue based on the “Blues Brothers” characters originally created by Saturday Night live comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Based in the United States and founded in 1983, Briefcase Blues is backed by an 8-piece show-band while the stars of the show J.W. Leggio (as Jake) and Lee Schwing (as Elwood) faithfully re-create the “Brothers” characters in true Belushi & Aykroyd style!
The Tu Tones are a Texas-based band that plays Rhythm & Blues, Rock'n Roll, Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Rockabilly and Surf Guitar. It’s all part of the Tu-Tones classic sound. Legendary and nationally recognized harmonica player, Stompin' Bill Johnston, excites audiences with his dead-on vocals and unbelievable harp tone and riffs. Johnston is accompanied by Mr.18 Karat who performs foot drums (bass/snare or bass/high-hat), guitar and vocals. Mr.18 Karat supports the duo with classic guitar licks coupled with the cool tone of his Les Paul Special P90's.
at the Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison Road
Addison, Texas 75001