Give thanks for Grapes

By: Christi Rutledge

Since Canadian Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought there would be no better time to talk about the power of the family. As we prepare to snuggle down this long weekend, let’s take a quick look at a production this season that makes me feel especially thankful: The Grapes of Wrath (it inspires gratitude in a very different way from The Homecoming – but that’s a whole other story and a whole other blog ). More powerful than the poverty, addictions, violence or tragedy is the force of family in this production. Frank Galati’s adaptation focuses on the heart of an incredible family as it brings Steinbeck’s story of the Joads to life on stage.

As the Joad family is tested and their material goods are taken away, what remains strong is the desire and the need for support from one another. The family is resilient throughout the production; in my opinion, this is largely thanks to the strong role that the women play in keeping the family together. Ma Joad, played by Janet Wright, harnesses the family and gives them direction, purpose and advice when the going gets tough — and it gets pretty tough. When Rose of Sharon (played by Chilina Kennedy) loses her baby and it seems that the family has nothing for which to be grateful, Ma once again pulls the family together. If you have read the book, then you already know about Rose of Sharon’s final act of benevolence. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil the end for you.

While some people might feel inclined to be upset by all of the loss, I think that there is a bigger picture to this play. This is a piece of theatre that reinforces the importance of families sticking together, placing one another before oneself and, most of all, being thankful for what you have. I’ve seen this show a couple times now and still leave the theatre feeling hopeful – and, more importantly, incredibly thankful.

Check out this great clip from The Grapes of Wrath as the family gives thanks at the dinner table:

I am in love with this production of The Grapes of Wrath and I want to make sure that you see it this season – so I’m sharing a special ticket deal with you and your families. Until the end of the season, enjoy $29 tickets to any production of The Grapes of Wrath. To redeem this great offer, go to www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com and log in with promotion code 40963.

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An Elizabethan Sitcom – The Merry Wives of Windsor

By Aaron Kropf

The Merry Wives of Windsor has often been called Shakespeare’s sitcom, and you could come up with any number of reasons why. For me, Cheers is the TV comedy it most brings to mind – you can just imagine how everyone in that show would respond to Falstaff’s entrance, in the opening scene of Merry Wives, through the doors of the local tavern. He was definitely the Norm of his day.

Falstaff, in fact, is an Elizabethan example of what you could call a spin-off: the fat knight proved so popular when he first appeared in the two parts of Henry IV that Shakespeare gave him a show of his own. In Merry Wives, Falstaff sets out to seduce two married women, in order to get his hands on their money. But they immediately see through him and devise their own schemes to teach him a lesson – thereby setting the comic action in motion.

Mistress Page and Mistress Ford – whom director Frank Galati has compared to Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz in the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy – are two high-spirited women married to two very different men. One husband, Master Page (deftly portrayed by Stratford favourite Tom McCamus), is trusting and easy-going. The other, Master Ford (hilariously played by Tom Rooney), is given to jealousy and spends much of the show trying to catch his entirely innocent wife in the act of infidelity. Many of the play’s chuckles result from Ford getting in the way of the tricks the women are trying to play on Falstaff.

Memorable capers ensue, from Falstaff’s concealment in a basket of dirty laundry to his desperate attempt to escape Ford’s wrath disguised as an old woman. But give the big guy his due: despite all that the women throw at him, Falstaff keeps coming back for more – why?

In a video interview with Geraint Wyn Davies – who plays the role with the aid of a lot of padding – General Director Antoni Cimolino explores the character of Falstaff and how he’s portrayed in this particular production. Click on this link for the video:

Sometimes we head to the theatre for a laugh or two, and The Merry Wives of Windsor gives us that in spades. Not all the laughter is at Falstaff’s expense, though (there’s also a comical French doctor with an impenetrable accent), and much of it is ultimately forgiving: at the end of the play, everyone seems ready to share a chuckle at their own foibles and failings, even Falstaff himself.

Shakespeare was a master of all forms of play, and in The Merry Wives of Windsor he sounds the depths of humankind through laughter just as profoundly as he does in tragedies that no one would dream of comparing to a sitcom.

Why The Grapes of Wrath?

The Great Depression is one of the most documented times in human history. The photos from that era are etched in all of our minds: the faces, the destruction, the devastation and, of course, the dust all over the place. If we are all familiar with these people and the struggles they have faced, why should or would anyone want to see this on stage?

On the surface, The Grapes of Wrath is a story about the struggles of people in a difficult time in American history. The Depression is an era that everyone knows about: we’ve seen the photos and heard the stories from parents or grandparents that experienced it. The faces of those people are etched in each of our minds. But The Grapes of Wrath is more than that; it’s a story of perseverance, overcoming obstacles, the strengthening of families and, most importantly, hope. If the Joad family were lacking in any of these traits, this would indeed be a story difficult to swallow and a challenge to watch on stage.

Frank Galati took Steinbeck’s masterpiece and made it into a piece of theatre that maintains the traits mentioned above. Hope, the greatest of these, is evident in Ma (Janet Wright), who, despite the hardships, encourages her family to soldier on and finish the journey to California – and who, once there, provides for the family by bringing their spirits up. Without that hope and determination, I’m sure The Grapes of Wrath would quite a different story.

As part of the rehearsal process, the company had the opportunity to talk to some migrant workers. In this video clip Antoni Cimolino (director), Tom McCamus (Jim Casy) and Evan Buliung (Tom Joad) talk a bit about their time with the migrant workers and what they learned from them:

Why stage The Grapes of Wrath? It’s a story we are all familiar with. It’s relevant to our time. It gives us hope and shows that even when things might look their bleakest, we can still get through. We’ll get through with the help of those we have surrounded ourselves with. Come to Stratford and experience the trials, tribulations and survival of Ma, Pa, Tom and the rest of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, playing at the Avon Theatre until June 1.

Come see The Grapes of Wrath June 4 or 7 for $39. Include A, B and C seating and the tickets must be purchased online. When ordering include promotion code 38784