The final year students of DIT Conservatory’s BA in Drama showcase an array of theatrical technique in an epic adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.
John Steinbeck’s award winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath is a worthwhile but not an easy read. The novel centres on the Joad family in Dust Bowl Oklahoma who move west during the Great Depression in search of green pastures and the California Dream. It’s a sad story of human struggle as the Joads see their dreams dissolve and the family unit crumble.
I had reservations about spending Wednesday night beholding a near three hour adaptation on stage. I needn’t have been so concerned: I was utterly captivated by the portrayal of human struggle, cruelty and compassion.
The novel was adapted by Frank Galati, of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which won a Tony award for best play in 1990. This version, directed by Mark Lambert, is lively and vibrant performed by the graduate class of DIT Conservatory BA in drama – an enthusiastic and energetic young cast who make full use of their talents across acting, movement, music and dance.
The energy and on stage chemistry is what really brings the play to life and keeps the audience upright and rooting for the Joads throughout its duration. The youth of the cast doesn’t really distract as they adopt characters beyond and below their years. Many of the actors give really memorable performances. In particular, Aisling Madden gives a subtly nuanced performance of the matriarch Ma Joad, and Benjamin Harding, as Tom Joad, anchors the play with charisma and a remarkable presence.
The use of the set, designed by Maree Kearns, is also worth noting. The Joads’ possessions (a jumble of household junk) represents their Oklahoma home and later becomes their truck, assembled on stage by the cast during a musical interlude which prevents it becoming cumbersome.
At almost three hours in length the greatest accomplishment of this play could be that it never feels long. Music and dance punctuate the dialogue and the cast’s energy offsets the despair. It’s a sad and sobering story, but moments of joy accompany hope; tenderness accompanies compassion.
The Grapes of Wrath runs from 26th February until 1st March at the Project Arts Centre. Tickets: €15 (concessions €12), group bookings available.
Project Arts Centre
39, East Essex Street
Tel: 01 881 9613 (Box Office)
Lead image via US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division on Wikipedia; photos of cast © Jason Clarke Photography