Ma Joad is a strong and resilient woman. Tested by a harsh life on the family farm in Oklahoma, she has been the cement that has kept her family together. But the Great Depression of the 1930s and the horrific dust bowl conditions that accompanied that event, have just about worn her down. According to Jenni Abbott who portrays Ma in the critically and audience acclaimed production, currently running at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, she is “a woman who faces a dilemma. What do you give when you have nothing? But she is a woman with dreams and hopes.”
Abbott added that “this show is very timely and appropriate for the valley insomuch as we need to take care of ourselves as well as our community. Where does the balance come from? These are the questions of society.”
Abbott is one of nine Oakdale residents, along with her daughter Maddie, who were cast in the Prospect Theatre Project presentation, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ which runs through this weekend. This production follows on the heels of their likewise successful offering of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ which also featured Abbott and was a sellout. She said that she is “as proud of this show as anything I have done.” In her estimation, this role ranks right up there with her two personal favorites, Emily Dickinson in her popular one woman show about the 19th century poet author and Eleanor of Aquitaine in ‘The Lion in Winter.’
Abbott has been performing for “a long time,” she said with a chuckle, starting with Oakdale High School productions of ‘South Pacific,’ ‘Hello Dolly!,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘The Fantasticks.’ She has also been a musical director and production director with the fledgling group, Oakdale Community Theatre. She is always on the lookout for projects that will stretch her professionally.
“I would like to do some Shakespeare again,” she said.
She first met ‘Wrath’ director Jack Souza in a production of ‘Hamlet’ 25 years ago.
Also starring in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is Andrew Brown in the pivotal role of Tom Joad. The recently paroled son joins his family on the 2000 mile trek to California in search of work and a new life. Brown said that he is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this show. He said that the role of Tom is “awesome” and awe inspiring.
“His is a story of internal struggles against a background of external strife,” Brown said.
Brown, who has several credits to his name already, has been performing since his junior year of high school and enjoys working with director Souza. His twin brother, Garrett, who also started acting in his junior year at Oakdale High School, appears in several supporting roles and said that it has been “a lot of fun working with so many actors from Oakdale.”
Father and son, Brent and Aaron Lowe, have teamed up for the second time with their casting in this show. They first appeared together in the Oakdale Community Theatre’s production last summer of ‘Oliver.’ Aaron, who is 10 years old, said it is great working with his dad onstage again and Brent added that this experience has been “awesome and great!”
Aaron has performed at Magnolia School, with Hutton’s Hamlet and the YES Company. He confidently stated that he doesn’t get stage fright.
Also featured in this production are mother and daughter duo, Jennifer and Chloe Kerr and Ronnie Daily in supporting and ensemble roles.
All agreed that the staff of the Prospect Theatre Project and the Gallo Center have been very professional and have a high level of expertise. The show, which was cast last December and began rehearsals in March, has over 300 props including a full size truck. It is a very technical show and much of the music was composed specifically for this production.
‘The Grapes of Wrath’ continues its run this weekend with performances on Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 p.m.