“How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other,” John Steinbeck, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The “Grapes of Wrath”, published in 1939, is considered one of the most prolific novels of all time, being ranked by the Modern Library as number ten on their 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century list.
“Wrath” is the story of Dust Bowl immigrants fighting to survive during the Great Depression. Many of its themes resonate strongly in the midst of the longest recession is American history.
Henry Fonda earned his first Academy Award nomination starring the 1940 film adaptation, also considered one of the finest works of its kind, having been one of the first films to be preserved by the Library of Congress.
In 1990, “Wrath” was adapted for the stage and has had immense success in the two and a half decades since. TJC’s theatre department is staging their own adaption from Oct. 8-12. Theatre Professor Jacob Davis is helming their adaptation with freshman theatre major Joel Byrd starring as Tom Joad, the family patriarch.
“There are a couple of factors that went in, once I started looking at it because this is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of the novel, so that was one thing just kind of commemorating the fact it has been seventy-five years since the novel was written,” said Davis. “Also just to start with, the novel has had a huge impact on me. Whenever I first read it, it was the first book that I ever saw how much symbolism and imagery and illusion was a part of it and how much it tied in with the biblical aspects and stuff that I knew. It kind of changed my mind on what literature could be.”
A role as iconic as Tom Joad might be intimidating for some, but Byrd seems to relish the challenge. He believes that there is a magic on the stage that the viewer just can’t find in a film.
“You don’t have to know anything about theatre to enjoy what it can bring. I mean, we watch movies all the time. It’s just for fun,” said Byrd. “It’s for pleasure as well. It does teach us something subconsciously, subtexturally, but we are there, we are impacted and we are ever present … when watching theatre”
The TJC theatre group has taken the fearlessness of the Joad family’s transformation to heart and their passion alone will be worth the price of admission. “Wrath”, in any form will never fail to challenge its audience’s perspectives on fear, loss, family and poverty.