Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Players' 'Grapes of Wrath' a Compelling Performance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Players' 'Grapes of Wrath' a Compelling Performance

Article excerpt

The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s was one of the greatest tests the United States has faced. With severe droughts and windstorms punishing the Midwest, families who had farmed their land for years were baited into moving west by handbills promising ample work and a new beginning.

Unfortunately, as depicted in Players-by-the-Sea's new production, a theatrical retelling of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, those were empty promises for the most part. What results for the Joad family once they leave their dying home in Oklahoma is a constant and exhausting test of their faith in each other and humanity itself.

The play starts with Tom Joad, played by Sam Veal, walking back home after being paroled from prison. Tom had killed a man in self-defense a few years ago and served four years of a seven-year sentence. He first meets John Casy, played by Barney Dreistadt, a former preacher whose questions about his faith led him away from the church.

Tom and Casy return to the Joad home, which has been abandoned except for a vagrant. This vagrant tells Tom that banks are evicting people from their farms, and that his family has moved on to another house.

Casy and Tom soon meet up with the Joad family as they are preparing to head west. Soon the truck is packed and the Joads and Casy are off. Along the way, they find more people who followed the same dream and the troubles it caused. Until the family finally arrives in California, nothing can convince them that the promises of work, money and stability are not true.

Veal does an excellent job showing Tom Joad's rebirth from a man only looking out for his family to a man wanting something better for both his family and the rest of the world. At the play's beginning, he strolls on stage with a gleam in his eye, happy to be free of prison. Along the way, you can see how Veal makes that gleam fade as his character's beliefs and dreams are challenged. His voice starts to quiver with the strain as he starts to fight for not only his family but others as well. Veal's Tom Joad is an angry man who learns to focus that anger into something better.

As Ma Joad, Holly Gutshall again demonstrated why she has won Pelican Awards for her performances at Players year after year. …

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