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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: 'The Grapes of Wrath' at The Chatham Community Players



The New Jersey Association of Community Theaters each year presents 'Perry' awards for theatrical excellence. Last year they awarded two major Perry's to the The Chatham Community Players. The first was for Outstanding Production of a Play and second Outstanding Actor, both for the CCP's production of the drama 'Glengarry Glen Ross' (Read our review). Actually two actors from 'Glenngarry' were nominated, David Cantor (Winner) and Michael King. Now comes the question, Is it possible for the CCP to win the Outstanding Actor award two years in a row (different actor)? or is there an Association policy of spreading awards around?
Dale Monroe, Tom Hodge and Debbie Bernstein

T
he reason for this concern, is that director Frank Licato's superior staging of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath' now playing (this weekend is the end of the run) has at least three actors who deserve to be nominated. They are Dale Monroe as Tom, Jeff Maschi as Rev. Jim Casy and Debbie Bernstein as Ma Joad. Dale Monroe is 'spot-on' as Tom, the family fighter who killed a man in a brawl in Oklahoma and ignores his parole to journey west with the family. Jeff Maschi is also perfect in the supporting role of Rev. Casy, the former minister who lost his faith after seeing so much misery.

My vote would go to Debbie Bernstein. She is simply magnificent as the mother who, regardless of the heartbreaking conditions she and her family experience from foreclosure in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in 1938 to the ugly plight of California migrant workers, far from the 'promised land' that had been promoted, somehow maintains her dignity and proves to be the true family leader and saviour. The final scene will leave you in no doubt that it is the mothers of the world who will save humanity.

The balance of director Licato's large cast includes these fine community actors: Tom Hodge as Pa, Arnold Buchiane as Grandpa, Jeslyn Wheeless as Grandma, Amanda Prieto as Rose of Sharon, Thom Wolfe as Al, Ian McGonigle as Noah, Jacqueline Pothier and Bridget McGarry share the role of Ruthie, Jaron Cole as Winfield, Steve Gabe as Uncle John, Others in the cast include Scott Tyler as Connie, Anna McCabe as Aggie Wainwright, and comprising the Ensemble are Frank Bläeuer, Victor Gallo, Rory Hoban, Charlotte Jusinski, Shanna Levine Phelps, Diane Lotti, Chip Prestera, Theo Errig, and Liz Royce.

Don't be put off by the fact that you are familiar with either the Nobel and Pulitzer winning book, or the Oscar winning 1940 film with Henry Fonda as the ex-con son Tom, this is an absolutely first rate retelling of one family's devastating attempt to survive this dreadful period in our history (The Great Depression). This tale of bank foreclosure, unemployment and social injustice is sadly all too relevant today.

Director Frank Licato: "We have a tendency to think of the story as a historical document, but nothing could be further from the truth. It remains at the heart of who we are as society, and questions what our priorities are. Some of these questions are just as pragmatic today as they were then; certainly for migrant workers, but Steinbeck, like any great artist, uses the specific to depict the universal. This is no museum piece and I hope that we can surround the Joads’ story with elements which challenge the audience to see beyond the familiar trappings of the period and to look at the images that reflect back at us today."

Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, "The Grapes of Wrath" premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and later transferred to the West End and Broadway. There it was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning two for Best Direction and Best Play. Known for his sympathetic humor and keen social perception, John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939 after seeing the devastation that blanked the country during the Great Depression. The novel won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and was a cornerstone to the Nobel Prize in Literature he was awarded in 1962.
The remaining performance dates are March 16 and 17 at 8PM. Performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for youth/senior.

To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to http://www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and click on the “TicketLeap” logo. The service is available 24 hours a day, and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance. The box office will begin accepting phone reservations on February 24 at (973) 635-7363.

The Chatham Community Players has been entertaining residents of Morris County and the surrounding area since 1922. "The organization’s mission is to produce high-quality theater for a diverse audience, while elevating its standard of excellence and providing a creative outlet with educational opportunities and outreach programs." For more information, including details of CCP’s entire 2011-2012 season, visit www.chathamplayers.org.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 10, 2012
The Joad Family:
(L-R Standing) Dale Monroe as Tom from Hackettstown, Steve Gabe as Uncle John from Madison, Jeslyn Wheeless as Grandma and Arnold Buchiane as Grandpa from Summit, Debbie Bernstein as Ma from Maplewood and Tom Hodge as Pa from Denville, (L-R Seated) Jaron Cole as Winfield from Madison, Amanda Prieto as Rose of Sharon from Madison and Jacqueline Pothier from Summit as Ruthie. 

PHOTOS BY HOWARD FISHER

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