John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, and directed by Dov Hassan at Chabot College School of the Arts has closed. The play was a success, and all company members, on stage and off came together as part of a wonderful collaboration. I’m so glad I was a part of it.
Thanks to everyone. Congratulations on an excellent run.
Check out the write-up/review in the Chabot Spectator by Jonathan Comeaux.
Chabot College School of the Arts’ The Grapes of Wrath
April 14-16, 20-23 7:30 PM in the Little Theater
For more information visit:
Grapes of Wrath Event Invitation
Chabot College School of the Arts, Department of Theater Arts
Chabot College to Present “Grapes of Wrath” Play with Folk Music, Songs, and Dance
(Hayward, CA) – Chabot College will present Frank Galati’s Tony Award-winning play, “The Grapes of Wrath,” with songs, dance, and folk music performed on period instruments. Performances are April 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, and 23 at 7:30 p.m. in The Little Theater, Building 1200. Tickets are available at the door for $15, general admission, and $10, seniors and students with I.D. Parking is $2.
Theater Arts Instructor Dov Hassan, who is directing Chabot College’s production, says that audiences will be treated to period music, singing, and dance, thanks to musical direction from Dennis Chowenhill, language arts faculty emeritus. In addition to serving as musical director, Chowenhill will perform folk melodies on his mandolin and other musicians will join him with various period instruments and tunes.
The play is adapted from John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the Joad family and their hardships, migrating from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to California’s migrant camps during the Great Depression. The socially and politically charged American classic, which features iconic characters and themes, also was made into an acclaimed 1940 film directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.
Theater Arts students participating in the producing include Alex Skinner, Sam Chaires, Yousserf Riahi, Robby Wagoner, Lucinda Jackson, Janelle Aguirre, Tara Simmers, Scott DeMerritt, Tony Azevedo, Tyler Gauthier, Eduardo DelaCruz Jr., Vince Gabrielson, John Turman, Jaime Ramos, Kelvin Rama, Emilio Garcia-Sanchez, Patrick Sweet, Monica Bonilla, Sandra Harris, Nicole Torres, and Seveonno Palizzolo.
For more information about Chabot’s College’s production and the theater arts program, please visit the website at http://www.chabotcollege.edu.
Boxcar Homes: The Novel and the Play
A Textual Comparison
Near the climax of the the play, the Fourth Narrator (played by Nicole Torres) in Frank Galati’s The Grapes of Wrath describes boxcar homes that migrant farm workers lived in. Nicole asked me for more information about these boxcar homes. I checked the text of Steinbeck’s novel against that of Galati’s play, and discovered that the wording is nearly identical. Chapter 28 begins as follows:
THE boxcars, twelve of them, stood end to end on a little flat beside the stream. There were two rows of six each, the wheels removed. Up to the big sliding doors slatted planks ran for cat-walks. They made good houses, water-tight and draftless, room for twenty-four families, one family in each end of each car. No windows, but the wide doors stood open. In some of the cars a canvas hung down in the center of the car, while in others only the position of the door made the boundary.
The Joads had one end of an end car. Some previous occupant had fitted up an oil can with a stovepipe, had made a hole in the wall for the stovepipe. Even with the wide door open, it was dark in the ends of the car. Ma hung the tarpaulin across the middle of the car.
“It’s nice,” she said. “It’s almost nicer than anything we had ‘cept the gov’ment camp.”
The Fourth Narrator from Galati’s script narrates as follows:
The boxcars, twelve of them, stood end to end on a little flat beside the stream. There were two rows of six each, the wheels removed. Up the big sliding doors slatted planks ran for cat-walks. They made good houses, water-tight and draftless, room for twenty-four families, one family in each end of each car. No windows, but the wide doors stood open. (The rusted side of a boxcar is revealed. The trough of water is open. Pa is standing in the open doorway. Ma and Uncle John are seated nearby. The fourth narrator moves out of sight.)
MA. It’s nice. It’s almost nicer than anything we had.
Boxcar Homes: Photographs
The Library of Congress American Memory Collection America from the Great Depression to WWII: Black and White Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945, shows some of the boxcar homes in photographs from the period. Some served as overnight stopping points, while others became temporary and even permanent residences.
Just Passing Through: Boxcar Interior
Settling in to Temporary Boxcar Homes: Exterior Shots
The Long Haul: “Permanent” Boxcar Housing
Program Notes by the Dramaturg, Stephanie M. Roach
Adapted by Frank Galati from John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel of the same name, the Tony Award winning The Grapes of Wrath debuted in 1988 at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. The novel won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize, and in 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” (Nobelprize.org, 2011).
These very qualities are brought to life in the challenges faced by the Joad family. They are imperfect and doomed, as they meet death, abandonment, and hunger on the road west. Yet, their ultimate triumph—their humanity—comes from within, as each character is forced to dig deep in order to grow and define who they are as they come face to face with the systematic, dehumanizing social, economic, and political forces that overwhelm them. Countless similar stories are found in every jalopy on the road to the Promised Land, California.
The Joad’s hail from Eastern Oklahoma, where the Great Depression and a changing agricultural model have conspired with nature for a perfect storm—a Dust Storm. Over preceding decades, farmers were encouraged to expand operations, incorporating newer, bigger tractors, and in the end, over-plowing. The Dust Bowl began in the height of the Great Depression, when a severe drought, lasting nearly a decade, dried up the land, threatening crops season after season. “Black Blizzards” or “Dust Storms” began as small dust devils, and grew into powerful storms, as the nutrient rich topsoil was lifted up by wind and carried away in a wall of dirt and dust that turned day into night as the sun was blotted out. The worst storm occurred in April 1935, and is known as “Black Sunday.” Crops were destroyed. Homes had to be dug out. Cattle died from breathing in the dirt. Children developed lung conditions. Families lost their livelihood, their homes, and sometimes their faith.
They packed up their families and abandoned their farms because of lost hope or foreclosure. In the largest migration of American history, over 2.5 million people fled the Plains in search of work and food. Many went to California, where they expected to find greener pastures, but were greeted with hostility, injustice and hunger.
More than seventy years later, labor issues remain a hot topic as we struggle to define the needs of our unemployed and underemployed citizens during our present economic recovery.
Music Notes and News from Dennis Chowenhill
All of the music for this production of The Grapes of Wrath draws from music that would have been familiar to the Dust Bowl “refugees,” echoing their southern music traditions and the voice of Woody Guthrie.
Rural music from the mid 20s through the Depression reflected four musical traditions. Central among these was the ballad tradition, inherited from England, commonly consisting of narratives of loss, death, and alienation, all experiences familiar to the communities that had found themselves isolated in various geographical pockets throughout the South. Another tradition was comprised of Anglo-Celtic dance tunes, maintained primarily by fiddlers who performed lively forms such as jigs and reels which were relatively easy to modify and mold into original tunes. A third tradition was the blues of African-Americans whom whites met in post-Industrial labor-intensive work settings, like railway building and mining. Finally, Protestant hymns were well known to all rural families of the South.
The common practice of bartering for exchanging goods placed musical instruments in the hands of rural families, as did marketers such as the Sears & Roebuck catalog, which provided families not only with a wide variety of farm and household implements but an equally wide range of musical instruments, the most popular of which were guitar, violin, mandolin, autoharp, and harmonica, all of which lent themselves well to the musical traditions of the South. Families thus often made their own music. In addition to this they had regular exposure to radio, from the 1920s through the 1940s. Radio stations such as KVOO (Tulsa, OK), WOAI (San Antonio, TX), and WLW (Cincinnati, OH), as well as the high wattage American-owned Mexican stations such as XERA, sent their broadcasts throughout the South, often reaching families through battery-run radios. These broadcasts were designed to appeal to the rural South, selling products like all-cure medicines, work clothing, and baking ingredients, and playing the music of The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and popular hillbilly bands. By the late 20s, Barn Dance programs were nearly ubiquitous on Southern radio.
By the mid 1930s, as the labor movement gained momentum in response to inhumane work conditions and egregiously unbalanced distribution of wealth, another musical voice emerged, that of the topical singer who applied folk idioms to give expression to the increasingly frustrated working class. Woody Guthrie, himself from Oklahoma, and a witness to these labor conditions and the impact of the Dust Bowl on southern share- and tenant-farmers, became the best known of these “protest” singers.
The Great Dust Storm; Woody Guthrie (rec. 1940)
Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby; Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn, 1925
Blowin’ Down the Road; Woody Guthrie (rec. 1940)
Amazing Grace; John Newton, 1779
So Long, Been Good to Know Ya; Woody Guthrie (rec. 1940)
Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground; “Blind” Willie Johnson (rec. 1927)
Wayfaring Stranger; English traditional
Reuben’s Train; unknown origin
Little Pal of Mine; A. P. Carter (rec. 1928)
Chicken Reel; Joseph M. Daly, 1910
Ragtime Annie; Irish traditional
Cowboy Waltz; trad., recorded by W. Guthrie, 1945
What a Friend We Have in Jesus; Charles Crozat Converse, 1868
*in order of first performance of each
Award Ceremony Speech
Presentation Speech by Anders Österling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy
John Steinbeck, the author awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in the little town of Salinas, California, a few miles from the Pacific coast near the fertile Salinas Valley. This locality forms the background for many of his descriptions of the common man’s everyday life. He was raised in moderate circumstances, yet he was on equal terms with the workers’ families in this rather diversified area. While studying at Stanford University, he often had to earn his living by working on the ranches. He left Stanford without graduating and, in 1925, went to New York as a freelance writer. After bitter years of struggling to exist, he returned to California, where he found a home in a lonely cottage by the sea. There he continued his writing.
Although he had already written several books by 1935, he achieved his first popular success in that year with Tortilla Flat. He offered his readers spicy and comic tales about a gang of paisanos, asocial individuals who, in their wild revels, are almost caricatures of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. It has been said that in the United States this book came as a welcome antidote to the gloom of the then prevailing depression. The laugh was now on Steinbeck’s side.
But he had no mind to be an unoffending comforter and entertainer. The topics he chose were serious and denunciatory, as for example the bitter strikes on California’s fruit and cotton plantations which he depicted in his novel In Dubious Battle (1936). The power of his literary style increased steadily during these years. The little masterpiece Of Mice and Men (1937), which is the story of Lennie, the imbecile giant who, out of tenderness, alone squeezes the life out of every living creature that comes into his hands, was followed by those incomparable short stories which he collected in the volume The Long Valley (1938). The way had now been paved for the great work that is principally associated with Steinbeck’s name, the epic chronicle The Grapes of Wrath (1939). This is the story of the emigration to California which was forced upon a group of people from Oklahoma through unemployment and abuse of power. This tragic episode in the social history of the United States inspired in Steinbeck a poignant description of the experiences of one particular farmer and his family during their endless, heartbreaking journey to a new home.
In this brief presentation it is not possible to dwell at any length on individual works which Steinbeck later produced. If at times the critics have seemed to note certain signs of flagging powers, of repetitions that might point to a decrease in vitality, Steinbeck belied their fears most emphatically with The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), a novel published last year. Here he attained the same standard which he set in The Grapes of Wrath. Again he holds his position as an independent expounder of the truth with an unbiased instinct for what is genuinely American, be it good or bad.
In this recent novel, the central figure is the head of a family who has come down in the world. After serving in the war, he fails at whatever he tries until at last he is employed in the simple work of a grocery store clerk in the New England town of his forefathers. He is an honest man and he does not complain without due cause, although he is constantly exposed to temptation when he sees the means by which material success must be purchased. However, such means require both hard scrupulousness and moral obduracy, qualities he cannot muster without risking his personal integrity. Tellingly displayed in his sensitive conscience, irradiated like a prism, is a whole body of questions which bear on the nation’s welfare problems. This is done without any theorizing, using concrete, or even trivial, everyday situation, which are nonetheless convincing when described with all of Steinbeck’s vigorous and realistic verve. Even with his insistence on the factual, there are harmonic tones of daydreaming, fumbling speculations around the eternal theme of life and death.
Steinbeck’s latest book is an account of his experiences during a three-month tour of forty American states Travels with Charley, (1962). He travelled in a small truck equipped with a cabin where he slept and kept his stores. He travelled incognito, his only companion being a black poodle. We see here what a very experienced observer and raisonneur he is. In a series of admirable explorations into local colour, he rediscovers his country and its people. In its informal way this book is also a forceful criticism of society. The traveller in Rosinante – the name which he gave his truck – shows a slight tendency to praise the old at the expense of the new, even though it is quite obvious that he is on guard against the temptation. “I wonder why progress so often looks like destruction”, he says in one place when he sees the bulldozers flattening out the verdant forest of Seattle to make room for the feverishly expanding residential areas and the skyscrapers. It is, in any case, a most topical reflection, valid also outside America.
Among the masters of modern American literature who have already been awarded this Prize – from Sinclair Lewis to Ernest Hemingway – Steinbeck more than holds his own, independent in position and achievement. There is in him a strain of grim humour which, to some extent, redeems his often cruel and crude motif. His sympathies always go out to the oppressed, to the misfits and the distressed; he likes to contrast the simple joy of life with the brutal and cynical craving for money. But in him we find the American temperament also in his great feeling for nature, for the tilled soil, the wasteland, the mountains, and the ocean coasts, all an inexhaustible source of inspiration to Steinbeck in the midst of, and beyond, the world of human beings.
The Swedish Academy’s reason for awarding the prize to John Steinbeck reads, “for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humour and a keen social perception.”
Dear Mr. Steinbeck – You are not a stranger to the Swedish public any more than to that of your own country and of the whole world. With your most distinctive works you have become a teacher of good will and charity, a defender of human values, which can well be said to correspond to the proper idea of the Nobel Prize. In expressing the congratulations of the Swedish Academy, I now ask you to receive this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature from the hands of His Majesty, the King.
From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969. Retrieved from http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1962/press.html
Just thought I’d share a link to the MSU Grapes of Wrath Blog developed by the dramaturg, Kristen Hariton, for their March production of John Steinbeck’s the Grapes of Wrath, written by Frank Galati:
Chicken Reel and Square Dance Calls
Here are a couple of recordings showing examples of square dance calls.
Walter Harp, square dance calling; Charles Cook, fiddle; Charles Powell, guitar; Bennie Lindsay, guitar; and Junior Lindsay, harmonica.
Recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell at the HiWay Cafe in Brentwood, California on March 10, 1939.
Library of Congress Call No. AFC 1940/001: AFS 3819 A & B1
A square dance tune, played and called. C. W. O’Berry fiddles and sings the refrain to “Sweet Little Girl on Josephine.” Johnny Bill Shoemaker calls. Collected by Carita Doggett Corse and Robert Cornwall.
Duration: 1 minute, 42 seconds; Library of Congress Call No. AFS 3902A:1
Square Dance Images
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve posted a few images of dancers from the 1930s to our Facebook page. Here they are:
Music Notes & News from Dennis…
At the campfire scene at the beginning of the play, the singers will be performing “Little Darling, Pal of Mine,” a song written by A.P. Carter, head of the Carter Family. A. P. was responsible for collecting the material that the Carter Family sang, gathering most of it by walking for weeks on end through Southern states, meeting people in their homes and community gatherings and memorizing their songs. Upon returning home, A. P. would teach the songs he had learned to Sara (his wife) and Maybelle (Sara’s cousin, and the wife of A. P’s. brother). A. P. wrote some songs himself, and “Little Pal of Mine” is one of his best known.
The performance of “Little Darling, Pal of Mine” that we will be doing will be accompanied (by Monica Bonilla), on autoharp, an instrument used in most of the Carter recordings, played either by Maybelle Carter or her cousin Sara Carter (who was also the wife of A. P. Carter). It will be a good idea for all the cast members to become familiar with this song, as it expresses sentiments of the era and was well known to farm families, who could hear the Carters frequently on battery powered radios. The song is also the tune that Woody Guthrie—himself a big Carter fan—modified to write his song, “This Land is Your Land.”
“Little Darling, Pal of Mine,” performed by the Carter Family
Here is a recording of the Carter family performing “Little Darling, Pal of Mine.” It is accompanied by Maybelle on guitar, playing it with a steel slide, a technique she learned from players of Hawai’ian music.
“Little Darling, Pal of Mine,” performed by Joan Baez
Here is a more modern recording of the song, by Joan Baez, who is performing it with a Bluegrass group named The Greenbriar Boys. It has a more polished, perhaps mellower, feeling to it.
Lyrics: “Little Darling, Pal of Mine” Read the rest of this entry »
Grapes of Wrath Look Book
I’m attaching a link to an edited version of the Look Book. It is divided into three sections. At Home with the Joads focuses on farm life and the Dust Bowl. On the Road with the Joads shows images of life on the road. The Joads traveled from Eastern Oklahoma to California, where they stayed on the road, moving from camp to camp, trying to stay in work. California with the Joads focuses on the life of the migrant worker in California. Dov will be bringing in a reference copy of the complete version to rehearsal, so that the images will be available for browsing.