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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Intiman's The Grapes of Wrath
Yields a Handsome Harvest

Grapes of Wrath
Beth Dixon and Erich Kastel
Frank Galati's skillful adaptation of the classic John Steinbeck tale The Grapes of Wrath receives a masterful staging by director Linda Hartzell at Intiman Theatre. Hewing closer to the original novel than the classic forties movie version did, this Grapes is also a bleaker depiction of the depression era family's trek from the dust bowls of Oklahoma to the fabled (and disappointing) land of plenty in California. Coming at a time when rampant destruction of homes and lives after the Gulf Coast hurricanes recalls the plight of the Okie's in the thirties adds a poignant irony to the proceedings.

Hartzell and her actors always keep the play from feeling anywhere near its actual two and a half hour running time. The production's richest performances are given by Beth Dixon as Ma Joad, and Todd Jefferson Moore as Jim Casy. Dixon's Ma is stalwartly stoic, yet optimistic and nurturing; Moore's former preacher Jim is the most vibrant personality on the stage, in physical appearance as well as in outline, and he honors the memory of John Carradine in the film. Erick Kastel is adequate as the prodigal son Tom Joad, but a trifle too subdued and unvarying in his line delivery. Autumn Dornfeld possesses pathos and growing dignity as Rose of Sharon. Phillip Davidson and Sharva Maynard are ideally cast as the soon dispatched Grampa and Granma Joad, and effectively recur in other roles throughout the play. Connor Toms makes a spirited and likable Al Joad, and Patrick Husted is a quietly pathetic Pa Joad. Used to carrying larger roles, Laurence Ballard's welcome presence in a variety of guises shows his versatility and range, and Josephine Howell is amusing and scary at the same time as the pompously pious Elizabeth Sandry.

Carey Wong's scenic design uses minimal scenery with maximal result, set off by a remarkable lighting design by M.L. Geiger. Catherine Hunt's fine costumes never prettify things, and Chris R. Walker creates an evocative sound design.

There is a certain remoteness about the production that kept me from embracing it thoroughly, and my eyes only briefly welled up with tears once, but with more performances under its belt, I feel that will become a non-issue. As it is, The Grapes of Wrath is still one of the finest Seattle theatre events of 2005.

The Grapes of Wrath ruins through November 2, 2005 at Intiman Theatre 101 Mercer Street, in Seattle Center. For further information go on-line at www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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