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Classic Steinbeck Novel Re-Envisioned For Wirtz Center Stage

The Joad family comes to life in “The Grapes of Wrath” at Northwestern University

EVANSTON, Ill. --- “The Grapes of Wrath,” based on John Steinbeck’s National Book Award and Pulitzer prizewinning book, will soon bring the Dust Bowl era to new light on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, professor emeritus of performance studies at the School of Communication, and directed by Chicago-based director, actor and MFA directing candidate Aaron Snook, the production runs April 24 through May 3.

The production is part of the spring 2015 theatre season at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts. All performances will take place at the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus.

The Wirtz Center’s production marks the first time that Galati’s version of “The Grapes of Wrath” will be fully-produced and staged at Northwestern University.

“The Grapes of Wrath” chronicles the struggles of the Joad family after being reduced to poverty by the loss of their Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl -- a period of catastrophic dust storms that damaged the ecology and agriculture of U.S. and Canadian prairies during the 1930s.

It follows the family as they pile into their battered old truck to head west for California in the hope of finding work and a better life. Led by the willful Ma Joad and her volatile young son Tom, the entire family encounters an epic journey, testing their resilience and calling on their strength as they struggle to find community. 

Galati's adaptation of Steinbeck's novel “The Grapes of Wrath” premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 1988. After its successful Chicago run, “The Grapes of Wrath” had extended engagements in San Diego, London and New York, followed by overseas productions in cities that included Denmark and Australia. (Editor’s note: Galati won Tony Awards for best play and best direction of a play in 1990 for his dramatic adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” on Broadway.)

Steinbeck’s passionate description of the plight of the poor comes to life through song, movement and gritty portrayals in a theatrical adventure that is a moving affirmation of the essential goodness that is the foundation of the American spirit and family.

In fitting with the theme of the play, the Wirtz Center will host a spring food drive to benefit Hillside Food Pantry, which serves patrons in Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette and Chicago. Audience members are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for collection in the lobby of the Barber Theater during the show’s run. At the close of the production, all donations will be delivered to the northwest Evanston-based pantry for distribution to local families in need.

“The Grapes of Wrath” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 24; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 26; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 2; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3.

Post-show talkback discussions with the Northwestern student cast will follow the April 24 opening night, April 26 matinee and April 30 evening performances.

“Our stage will become one great campfire with the audience gathered round as we tell the story of the American spirit with gut-wrenching honesty, humor and music,” said director Aaron Snook. “No matter the odds, the strife or the loss, I believe that if we stick together as one, just like the Joad family, we’ve got a chance to survive in modern society.”

Tickets are $25 for general public; $22 for seniors over 62 and Northwestern faculty and staff and educators; $10 for full-time students with valid IDs (at the door); and $5 tickets exclusively for full-time Northwestern students on advance purchase. Discounts are available for groups of eight or more.

For more information, phone 847-491-4819, visit the Wirtz Center website at or email

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