Arts and Entertainment

BPA’s Grapes of Wrath follows hope on the horizon

Part of the cast of BPA
Part of the cast of BPA's Grapes of Wrath, from left: Winfield (Silas Gibbons), Al (Gabriel Culkin), Pa (Larry Kight), Noah (Carter Kight), Rose of Sharon (Mary Herman) and Granpa (Bob Tull).
— image credit: Steven Fogell/Courtesy Photo

Pile in

The Grapes of Wrath appears at Bainbridge Performing Arts March 19-28, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. plus Sundays at 3 p.m. A Pay-What-You-Can Preview performance is March 18 at 7:30 p.m., and a special Opening Night Reception is Friday, March 19 @ 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 for adults, and $18 for seniors, students, youth, military and teachers, and may be purchased at, by phone at 842-8569 or in person at BPA, 200 Madison Ave.

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Grapes of Wrath is strong medicine, an antidote to the slick and cynical.

Essentially, it’s a tale about connections. Not the 500-friends-on-Facebook kind, but the steadfast bonds that are tested and forged over time, through thick and thin, born from sharing a common dream.

“It’s a story about a renewed sense of hope and community” said director Kate Carruthers. “It’s a beautiful story. At the core of this play is an honest spirituality.”

Calico and bare feet

The set is spare and monochromatic – a rusty sepia that stands in for the dust-covered plains that drove families, like the Joads, West in search of a better life. The pivotal prop, a busted-up jalopy, signifies the importance of the journey.

The lack of sleight-of-hand, rollaway sets lends a sense of Midwest honesty to the production. The set is conveyed by “the actors’ commitment to what is happening,” Carruthers said.

Against the sparse backdrop, the characters and story come alive, coated in a believable patina.

“With all the material things stripped away, people find out what they’re made of. They get down to what’s really important, what’s valuable,” Carruthers said. “In the end, all they had was each other – and a dream.”

In Grapes, even when the sky is dark, hope flashes on the horizon.

Fiddlin’ around

For decades, the Grapes of Wrath has inspired musicians such as Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Springsteen. For the BPA production, it has inspired Bainbridge group “More Luck to Us,” which provides a live (and lively) soundtrack of original and era-specific folk songs and traditional music.

The trio consists of Dusty Collings on Appalachian Mountain dulcimer and guitar; Marcus Lang on concertina, mandolin, flute, Irish flute and penny whistle; and Nora Lang, who has studied with Island Music Center’s Stuart Williams, plays the fidddle.

Collings, musical director for the production, said interpreting the play’s emotional impact is as simple as playing as if they were there.

“We play the songs they would have played at a funeral, at a wedding,” she said.

Carruthers said the group will open and warm up the crowd before the show with a sing-along of toe-tapping songs “people probably know.” Come early for that.

One big happy family

In all, 24 actors share the 60 roles that Frank Galati’s adaptation requires, creating a tight-knit stage family that Carruthers said is the “most cooperative, happy, supportive cast” she’s ever worked with. And the largest.

The key roles are Ma, played by Barbara Deering, matriarch of the Joad family, who holds a bass rhythm of hope: “Keep a-goin’, we’re gonna keep a-goin’.”

The free-range preacher, Jim Casey, played with a swagger by Guy Sidora, offers a harmonic of spiritual perspective. He’s a thinking man, “deeper down than thinking.”

Tom Joad, played by Steve Nagle, “brings the music,” Carruthers said. His character’s arc – man’s quest for meaning – provides the melody of the story.

The rest of the cast includes Gabriel Culkin, Larry Kight, Mary Herman, Ruth Urbach, Charlie Hamilton, Adam Holliday, Lily Lucas, Silas Gibbins, Bart Berg, Carter Kight, Bethany Hystad, Luc Rosenthal, Taylor Heebert, Sue Bielka, Tracy Dickerson, Melanie Medina, Bob Tull, George Shannon, Jim Anderson, Elizabeth Rolfes and John Eisenhauer., Elizabeth Rolfes and John Eisenhauer.

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