The Grapes of Wrath Rehearsal: March 27, 2017.
Drama freshman Alyssa E. Gomez playing Elizabeth Sandry and drama freshman Lucia Pena playing Rose of Sharon, are on stage March 27 in McAllister Fine Arts practicing for the play, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Sandry is telling Rose of Sharon all the evil that is going on at the weed patch camp. Photo by Zaeva Mercado
By Maritza Ramirez
This college’s theater program is bringing a Depression-era story to life by using wildly creative hand-built props and by taking advantage of imagination.
“The Grapes of Wrath,” a play based on the novel by John Steinbeck, is at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium of McAllister Fine Arts Center. Performances began March 30. The classic story became a 1940 movie starring Henry Fonda; the novel was adapted into a play directed by Frank Galati in 1988, and the show went to Broadway in 1990.
The play stays true to the novel, whereas the movie ended three-quarters into the novel, director Paula Rodriguez said.
“The play takes you through the entire novel,” said Rodriguez, theater program coordinator.
“If you enjoyed the novel, you’ll enjoy the play because it stays closer to the novel than the film,” she said.
“The Grapes of Wrath” tells the story of the Joad family. In an often inhumane world, the family leaves their home in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and travels across the United States to find a better life in California. Along the way, they find tragedy, lose family members and struggle — all with the hope of finding the American dream.
Rodriguez said the cast was going to do “The Wizard of Oz” but had to change productions because of a low budget and planning issues. They decided the “Grapes of Wrath” would be a good show for this season.
Rodriguez said the play has a large cast, is based on a classic American story and is a fun challenge to undertake.
“I’m very passionate about this story,” she said.
Rodriguez said the play includes themes that strike home with the actors, including family, staying together, overcoming adversity, struggling to make financial ends meet and treating people well.
In the story, people treat the migrant workers poorly. A lot of characters call the family Oakies because they are from Oklahoma. They are told they are stupid and uneducated.
“A lot of the students who are in the show found that to be similar to the situation going on right now — people’s views on immigrants, migrant workers, Mexicans — and are passionate, such as myself,” Rodriguez said.
“When we work on a scene, it will hit them how strong the situation is,” she said.
“Loss, death and struggling. It’s a very emotional play, as this family struggles to achieve a better life,” Rodriguez said.
“It’s very hard on the actors emotionally. You have to play this stuff emotionally,” she said.
Rodriguez said some actors can just take to it very easily and cry on cue and others are not able to do that. It’s a dark and scary place for young and learning actors to touch upon those emotions, she said.
“We tend to try to cover up our feelings a whole lot,” Rodriguez said.
“So, one of the challenges in rehearsing the show is allowing the actors to be free and to take risks to feel the same type of emotions that these characters feel,” she said.
Rodriguez explained the story’s similarities to her actors’ personal problems.
“It’s (like) when you struggled to make your tuition payment,” she said.
“Imagine how hard that was. Imagine how it is for them to put gas in their car, to feed their family and to give milk to a pregnant girl,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the folks in this play are treated poorly by police and authority figures.
“Has this ever happened to you, where you’ve been treated unjustly?” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said there is a large company for the production, including 15 actors, and about seven crew members for props, costumes, lighting and sound.
“A lot of students who are in this play were in the last production, ‘Doubt,’’ she said.
The three main characters are Tom Joad, played by theater sophomore Mason Ortiz, the Rev. Jim Casy, played by theater freshman Ryan Willis, and Ma Joad, played by theater sophomore Robin Rollins.
Rodriguez said she adores her cast because they are super intelligent and talented. Most of them have a part-time or full-time job and some have families.
“That’s typically the type of students we have at San Antonio College. So in this cast, we have all types of students and all types of backgrounds,” she said.
“It really makes for a unique cast,” Rodriguez said.
“They are all dedicated and energetic, smart, creative. They’re a joy to work with,” she said.
Rodriguez said audience members should know the script calls for extraordinary staging and props for a few scenes.
In the play, the family goes from their home, which has been bulldozed in Oklahoma, to piling everything into their beaten up truck. The set includes a life-size truck that was built from the ground up. The truck is a platform on wheels with a steering wheel.
“Obviously it’s not a real automobile, but it will be handled by actors on stage,” Rodriguez said.
When the family goes through the Colorado River, the stage is going to open into a river by a trough system, where the floor opens on stage so the actors can get wet.
There is an important scene that takes place during a thunderstorm, and it is going to rain on stage, she said. Rodriguez said the technical director Nathan Thurman and assistant technical director Daniel Mitchell, found a way for it to physically rain and have a hidden pool of water as a river on stage.
“It’s a river. It’s rain and dust,” Rodriguez said.
Student admission with ID is $5, senior and military admission is $8 and general admission is $10.
The box office will open about half an hour before the performance and accepts cash and checks only.
For more information, call 210-486-0255.