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The Grapes of Wrath 

When: Feb. 9-20 2011
Price: $25-$30
The latest iteration of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, which opened last week at TheatreFIRST in Oakland, is unquestionably a Jon Tracy production. Though it's faithful to the original stage adaptation by playwright Frank Galati, this Grapes includes several Tracyian flourishes. Characters beatbox, bang set pieces with sticks, and enhance the narrative with ensemble versions of current pop songs (culled from the likes of Kanye West, The White Stripes, and Radiohead). Moreover, the setup is high-concept, skeletal, and low-tech, reminiscent of the design Tracy used for Of the Earth in December. (That one included a lightbulb that doubled as a Cyclops.) In this case, a bed frame functions alternately as a doorway and as the Joads' jalopy, while a primrose has dense metaphorical significance - it's uprooted right as the Joads leave their home in Oklahoma and head out west. Set designer Martin Flynn helped Tracy achieve this vision. Ryan Tasker gives a swift, careful performance, switching hats to play Pa Joad and Uncle John. Michael Barrett Austin is persuasive as preacher-turned-labor-organizer Jim Casy. Through February 20 at Marion E. Greene Black Box Theatre (531 19th St., Oakland). $25-$30. 510-436-5085 or TheatreFirst.com.
— Rachel Swan

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