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The old college try
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Theater is alive and well at Savannah area universities and colleges.

For those who want more serious fare, the Savannah College of Art and Design media and performing arts department will present The Grapes of Wrath Nov. 11-14 at the Lucas,

based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel set during the Great Depression.

The Joads have lost their tenant farm in Oklahoma because of the Dust Bowl The family joins thousands of other families in heading out for California, where they hope to find a better life and land they can call their own.

“It is quite faithful to Steinbeck’s novel,” director Bruce Roach says. “It’s a huge sprawling story. What the playwright has done is take the plot of the story and put that on stage. Much of the dialogue has been lifted straight from Steinbeck. The elements of the book that are not stageable have all been implied in the text.”

In addition to the actors, a group of four musicians play guitar, banjo, harmonica and other instruments that are traditional to the period. “They drive the scenes,” Roach says.

To help the actors better understand the Great Depression and the deprivation the Joad family experienced, a researcher was brought in to tell them about the period, in particular the Dust Bowl. “They’ve all done a good bit of research on their own,” Roach says.

There are similarities between today’s economy and that era, Roach says. As a result, the students have been able to intuit the difficulties faced by the Joads on their own.

With a cast of 32, counting the musicians, and 18 different locations to portray on stage, Roach has his hands full. “We’ve been in rehearsals until midnight,” he says. “The students are preparing for finals week, so this has been hard on them. We’re in the midst of technical rehearsals now.”

In addition to numerous locations, there are other challenges to be met. “Including a truck that drives on stage,” Roach says.

In spite of the darkness of the story, there are moments of lightness. Although the Joads struggle, they also find strength.

“Whether people have read the novel or not, or seen the old movie, they seem to have preconceived notions what The Grapes of Wrath is,” Roach says. “Our goal was to tell the stories people don’t know. We wanted to look to the other sides of the characters.”

The Grapes of Wrath provides an opportunity for the media and performing arts department to bring in several students to work on stage and off. “We are always looking for something that gives a lot of students the opportunity to perform,” Roach says. “We also have two children we brought in from the community.

“We always try to find a piece that is tied to classical literature,” he says. “The characters of The Grapes of Wrath are cultural icons.”

One thing is new with this performance. “We are in the Lucas for the first time,” Roach says. “This is the first time the department has done a full-scale production there. It’s been a great challenge to our design staff and students,, but it is a beautiful theater.”

Tickets for The Grapes of Wrath are $10 for the general public, $5 for students, seniors and children and free with a valid SCAD ID. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the SCAD Box Office, 216 E. Broughton St. on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by phone at 525-5050. Tickets also will be available at the door one hour before curtain time.

Actors at other local universities also are rehearsing. In addition to the Shakespeare double bill at Armstrong Atlantic State University, there are two other performances in the works.

Savannah State University’s Players by the Sea will present the play Black Girl on Nov. 11, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the SSU Kennedy Fine Arts Center. Written by J.E. Franklin, the play tells the story of a girl who is constantly teased and picked on by her family. One day, with encouragement from a friend, the girl decides to follow her dreams.

Admission to Black Girl is free. For more information, call 356-2413.

A French farce, Hotel Paradiso is set for Nov. 17-20 at 8 p.m., presented by Georgia Southern University’s Theatre and Performance program.

This comedy centers around the desires of a married man for his best friend’s wife. When his wife leaves town for the weekend and his best friend leaves on a business trip, the two arrange to meet. The plot becomes more complex as the characters become confused and misinterpret what they see. Tickets are $10 and will be sold at the door or in advance. To make reservations, call 486-7999.