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The Grapes of Wrath
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By Jeff Davis
March 11, 2003

“The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck with adaptation by Frank Galati (L.A. Theatre Works; abridged fiction; two CDs; one hour and 58 minutes; $24.95; full cast recording).

I am pleasantly surprised every time I hear a production by L.A. Theatre Works. It’s not so much that the acting is impressive. They perform and record in Los Angeles, so that certainly gives them a bottomless talent pool from which to choose. It’s not even that the production is stellar and uses a notable level of sound effects and music. It must be the combination of all these elements and the fact that they pull it off in front of a live audience that makes each of their productions so spectacular.

How do you take a well-known classic like John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” set in the Depression era, and make it interesting enough so that people want to buy it and listen to the entire production?

This is a story of which most Americans are familiar. Even if you never read the book or saw the movie with Henry Fonda, you could probably still come up with the basic premise of the downtrodden Joad family having their lives swept away during the Dust Bowl devastation of the heartland, heading west to try start over in the promised land of California. You might know it’s a tale of the strength and pride of the common man trying to overcome the challenges of life, the system and Mother Nature. To turn this well-known tale into modern-day entertainment is quite a test. Yet once again, L.A. Theatre Works steps up to the challenge and triumphantly succeeds.

Rod McLachlan, Robert Pescovitz, Emily Bergl, Shirley Knight, Francis Guinan and Jeffrey Donovan offer exceptional portrayals of these simple farm folk of Oklahoma. You sense their plight; their conviction of what’s right and wrong and how they adapt it to works for them as they try to overcome the obstacles in their path.

The use of sound effects couldn’t be better. It would be interesting to attend one of their productions to see how they pull off exceptional sound quality as they perform this live. Many plays use sound effects, but L.A. Theatre Works seems to take it further. Plus, they drive it with live music performed by the Joel Rafeal Band, which heightens the mood. If you didn’t hear occasional laughter and applause from the crowd, you’d never know this was performed on a stage. They could add some effects in post-production, but it doesn’t come off sounding that way.

If you liked this American classic before, you will thoroughly enjoy this production of “The Grapes of Wrath” by L.A. Theatre Works. And at just 118 minutes, it’s an easy listen.

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