The Smithsonian Associates Presents “Steinbeck Onstage: The Grapes of Wrath at 75”

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The Smithsonian Associates, in collaboration with the National Steinbeck Center, presents a discussion on how The Grapes of Wrath’s powerful portraits of human perseverance in the face of injustice found their theatrical reflections, Thursday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in Baird Auditorium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Elda Rotor, editorial director of Penguin Classics, will moderate a discussion with Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw; Frank Galati, the writer and director of the highly lauded stage adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath; actress Lois Smith, who created the role of Ma Joad at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, where the production originated; and Michael Donald Edwards, artistic director of Florida’s Asolo Repertory Theatre, who directs a production of the Galati play this spring.

April marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that shook America’s consciousness and sparked a national debate around issues of labor, social justice and migration. This year, the National Steinbeck Center honors the work’s impact as a cultural catalyst by inviting readers to rediscover the novel and the writer who created this odyssey of Depression-era America—as well as the ways that this now-timeless story has reached beyond the page.

The Joad family’s journey, fueled by dreams and desperation, has inspired retellings in several forms. In addition to John Ford’s 1940 film adaption, in which Henry Fonda’s iconic Tom Joad seemed to bring a Walker Evans photo to life, The Grapes of Wrath was adapted as an opera in 2007 by composer Ricky Ian Gordon.

The highly lauded stage version created by writer-director Galati for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 1988 has been mounted by companies across the country ever since. When the Steppenwolf production came to Broadway in 1990—winning the Tony Award for Best Play—The New York Times called the show an “epic achievement for the director…[who] makes Steinbeck live for a new generation not by updating his book but by digging into its timeless heart.” Excerpts from Galati’s adaptation will be screened at the Smithsonian Associates’ event. Several of Shillinglaw’s Steinbeck-related books will be available for signing.

Ticket prices for the program are $25 for general admission and $20 for Associate members. For tickets and information, the public may call (202) 633-3030 or visit

The Smithsonian Associates offers life-enriching, educational and cultural experiences inspired by the Smithsonian’s exhibitions, collections and research. Each year The Smithsonian Associates creates and presents more than 750 individual programs that deliver exceptional opportunities for learning and growth. Programs range from lectures on a multitude of topics to the performing arts for audiences of all ages, in the Washington, D.C., area and across the country.

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