By Patrick B. McGuigan
The Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre company, in another historic collaboration with Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre, will present the live performance version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” The play is adapted from John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.
In an interview with The City Sentinel, CityRep founder/artistic director Don Jordan reflected the story is “one of the greatest ever told, a work of great truth and true genius whose universal resonance is shown thru the very real and specific struggle of one Oklahoma family. It won immediate and enduring acclaim.”
The upcoming performance of the theatrical version of the immortal tale may be the most logistically challenging of CityRep’s thirteen-year history. It is without a doubt, Jordan said, “the largest play we’ve ever done in our 13 year history. We have a cast of nearly 40, considerably larger than even the cast of the Tony Award Winning production on Broadway.
“One reason we are able to bring this important play to our city at this time and to engage its grand scale is that we have two other important organizations co-producing with us – Oklahoma City University’s nationally recognized School of Theatre and our dynamic Oklahoma History Center. Together we have been able to meet the considerable challenges of such a large play, and to expand our celebration of this 75th Anniversary of the publishing of the novel in even more and interesting ways.”
The weeks leading to this production include a September 30 concert of “Music of the Dust Bowl” hosted by the Oklahoma History Center.
CityRep regulars will see many of their favorite professional performers in the show, and world class direction and technical work.
“We brought home a native of Oklahoma City, Harry Parker, to direct this production. Harry has had a long and distinguished career and this is the first time he has been back to direct in the city in more than a quarter of a century,” Jordan said.
The company includes many nationally known members of Actors’ Equity Association, featuring Pam Dougherty, David Coffee, Sonny Franks Cameron Cobb, Jeanie Cooper, Michael Jones, Michael Corolla, Steve Emerson, Erik Schark. Jordan guaranteed the audiences will cheer for the set is designed by Jason Foreman, the lighting or Aaron Mooney and the costumes by Amanda Dolan.
Asked for closing thoughts in our exchange, as final rehearsals were underway for the company, Jordan reflected, “We have been very fortunate to work on such an essential part of our Oklahoma heritage, and this production continues to gather unprecedented interest nationwide. Representatives from Actors’ Equity Association’s regional headquarters in Chicago are coming to see it. Teresa Eyring, the Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group, the national association of leading professional regional theaters, is coming from New York to be in the audience.
“The Dallas Morning News contacted us, and as you and I talk they are preparing a feature on our production and the growth of our professional theatrical scene in our city. Being recognized by the National Steinbeck Center in California as an official part of the national 75th Anniversary celebration was exciting.”
Jordan wrapped up, saying, “When you stop and think that New York City, Chicago, California and Dallas are focused on what CityRep and our creative community are doing in Oklahoma City, I think it shows just how dynamic the arts here are. It also demonstrates that the arts are an essential part of our City’s future.”
“The Grapes of Wrath” may be the most honored work of literature in American history.
When the novel was first published, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Steinbeck. The classic film with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad followed, garnering two Oscars – and was nominated for six more.
When the Nobel Prize committee awarded Steinbeck their prize for literature, they cited his novel as the main reason. Decades later, when the stage adaptation came to Broadway in 1990, it won the Tony Award for Best Play.
Jordan said, “In each retelling of the Joad saga, the power of this Oklahoma family’s endurance, persistence, faith and decency in the face of overwhelming hardship is profoundly moving. While some people may be reluctant to embrace the Joad’s and the “Okie” portrait they present, I find that they exemplify the best of the The Oklahoma spirit, the American spirit and the human spirit.”
“The Grapes of Wrath” production begins this week and runs through Oct. 5 at the Burg Theatre on the OCU campus. Prices range are $30 for 8 p.m. evening performances (Friday, Sept. 26 and Saturday, Sept. 27; Friday, Oct. 3 and Saturday Oct. 4) and $25 for the 2 p.m. matinees (Saturday, Sept. 27, Sunday, Sept. 28, Sat. Oct. 4, and Sunday, Oct. 5).
For tickets, contact CityRep at 405-208-5227, online at cityrep.com.
In addition to OCU and the Historical Society, show sponsors include the National Steinbeck Center and the Kirkpatrick Family fund.
The City Sentinel returns as a proud season sponsor of CityRep.