1. When was the play first performed?

1988.

2. Where was the play first performed?

Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago.

3. Who wrote it?

Frank Galati, born November 1943, in Highland Park, Illinois, is professor emeritus at Northwestern University’s Department of Performance Studies. As an actor, director, and writer he has a long association with Chicago’s two most famous theatres,  Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Goodman Theatre, where he was associate director for twenty-two years. His adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel won the 1990 Tony Award for Best Play and for that same production he won Best Director. Steinbeck’s book, which has been called “the Great American Novel,” won the Pulitzer Prize and Steinbeck, partly because of its influence, won the Nobel Prize in 1962.

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s plays?

In one word: size. The Grapes of Wrath has the geographic, temporal, and thematic scope of one of Shakespeare’s history plays, but instead of looking at the power and ambition of rulers, it looks at the needs and dreams of the ruled.

5. How is this play unlike Shakespeare’s other plays?

The good guys are easy to tell from the bad guys; in Shakespeare there are few absolute baddies and the goodies, with one exception, all seem to have some human flaw. Frank Galati’s play went a long way toward transforming the 470-page novel into a Broadway show with “just” 35 actors. But, José Zayas, the director of this Blackfriars production, figured out how to tell the story on Shakespeare’s bare stage with eleven actors and an audience they can see.

6. What do critics think about this play?

From Frank Rich’s review in The New York Times (March 23, 1990): “The production, an epic achievement for the director, Frank Galati, makes Steinbeck live for a new generation not by updating his book but by digging into its timeless heart…Grapes of Wrath is true to Steinbeck because it leaves one feeling that the generosity of spirit that he saw in a brutal country is not so much lost as waiting once more to be found.”

7. How does the play speak to our contemporary world?

You’ll think this play about the struggle of migrants traveling thousands of miles to find the American dream was written for today’s editorial pages. When the novel came out, it was a political bombshell denounced as “communist” by landowners and industrialists. When the play came out, it looked like a reminder of what can happen. Today, it looks like reporting the news.

8. What character should I especially look for?

Ma. She’s more than a character in a play. She’s the mythic heart of a nation.

9. What scene should I especially look for?

They’re all good, but you’ll never forget the last one.

10. What is the language like?

The novel may be speechy, but the play uses actors to make poetry from the few words of inarticulate, ordinary people.

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