PITTSBURG, Kan. —
There were no kicks on Route 66 for members of the Joad family -- unless you count how they were kicked while they were down.
The story of the family, featured in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," features a few happy moments and a lot of heartbreak as they struggle to regain self-sufficiency amidst eviction, economic hardship and death. Yet the memory of reading the novel is one of Linden Little's favorite school memories.
"It was actually having a really great teacher," Little said. "She was able to translate her own experience and tie it into the novel. A tornado in Franklin had taken out her cousins' homes, so she related the experience of facing those huge challenges and people coming together, working together."
The play, staged by Pittsburg Community Theatre and directed by Little, will be presented today through Sunday at Memorial Auditorium.
Little said there are directors who choose plays and plays that choose directors. He recently saw the play adapted by Frank Galati in Seattle, and was impressed with how faithful the adaptation was.
"Most of the dialogue is directly from the novel," Little said. "It's rare to find an adaptation that so closely captures the essence of a novel."
Inside the story
The book, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Steinbeck in 1962, was published 75 years ago in 1939. The author took criticism for being a socialist because of the book's sympathies for people suffering the plight of poverty as a result of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
It features the story of the Joads, a family in the Great Depression era driven from its Oklahoma home. Seeking to flee drought, pressure from the bank, a changing agricultural industry and economic hardship, the Joads set out to find new fortunes in California.
The story resonates with cast members, some of whom read the book in school.
"It shows how important family really is," said John Mazurek, who plays Pa Joad, the family's patriarch. "It shows how tight a family can be and how they need to be that tight in order to handle adversity."
Little said he was also sensitive to how potential audience members may remember the era all too well. The cast of more than 40 actors worked hard to make sure they were being characters, not caricatures, while using Steinbeck's legendary dialect interpretations.
"The dialect is really exaggerated, but (Steinbeck) wrote what he was hearing," Little said. "We had to pull it off without slighting. We're talking about someone's grandparents or great-grandparents by being so close to Oklahoma."
That direct tie to the past is what stood out to Lisa Quinteros, who plays Ma Joad. Despite being in an economic downturn, the country's collective quality of life is greater than those Depression days.
"There are people still alive who experienced that, and I imagine how much more grateful they are," Quinteros said. "I know I feel grateful. Technically we're in a economic downturn, but they had nothing. Things aren't nearly as horrible for us."