Theater reviews

The Grapes of Wrath

By Frank Galati

Indiana Repertory Theatre

Directed by Michael Donald Edwards

Through March 12

Indiana Repertory Theatre is presenting a poignant production of The Grapes of Wrath. Frank Galati's Tony Award-winning stage adaptation feels complete, and the performers all do spot-on work. Priscilla Lindsay and Craig Mathers in the IRT production of 'The Grapes of Wrath.'

The Depression-era story is about a family that heads to grape country - California - after their home and the homes of those around them are confiscated by the bank. Thirteen people clamber into one jalopy and head out but, one by one, they are picked off by death and desperation.

Of the large cast, Robert K. Johansen as Jim Casey and Priscilla Lindsay as Ma especially stand out. Johansen reins in his animated acting style just enough to tone himself down to inhabit the worn-out preacher while still giving him character. Lindsay is the epitome of the stalwart mother figure, exhibiting undying strength in the face of continuous calamity. But the cast is rife with excellent performances - the bar was set and each person met it.

Atmosphere was bleak, with a slanted, dirty-colored stage designed by Scott Bradley, complemented with lighting by Lap-Chi Chu. Adding to the action as well as the ambience were musicians Tim Grimm, Christopher Walz and David N. Wierhake.

Fun opening night flubs: Andrew Ahrens wiped out while running from the river, to a collective "owwwwwww" from the audience; the laundry line spontaneously came down; and the fire alarm went off. The fact that everyone picked up and kept going without missing a beat speaks to the IRT's professionalism.

The Grapes of Wrath, directed by Michael Donald Edwards, continues through March 12. The IRT is located at 140 W. Washington St.; call 635-5252, www.indianarep.com.

A Letter from Ethel Kennedy

By Christopher Gorman

Directed by Ron Spencer

Theatre on the Square

Through Feb. 26

A Letter from Ethel Kennedy is a smooth show that makes you a little uncomfortable. But that could be because the characters are uncomfortable. Kit is dying from AIDS, and he invites his mother and then his father to lunch in a restaurant in New York's theater district. Whatever Kit thought he would accomplish, he doesn't. The lunches turn into bitter reminisces.

Playwright Christopher Gorman died in 2001 due to complications from AIDS, and never saw his production properly performed. Though not tagged as autobiographical, you can't help but think that some of his own experiences seeped into his play. But the play speaks to anyone who has a friction-filled relationship with his or her parents.

Alan Shepard as Kit is a character you can't help feeling sorry for. Shepard's painful gait and stature speak of Kit's late-stages battle with AIDS. But Kit doesn't give his parents the sweeping forgiveness some might expect - he holds his grudges, a trait he probably learned from his parents.

Beverly Gray as Bridget, Kit's mom, and Ed Mobely, as Kit's father, give us insight into Kit's actions. Both are drinkers - both in denial - and both determined to avoid reality.

The show is a tad slow at some points - action consists of getting up and down from a table - but the dialogue is interesting, insightful and even witty at times.

TOTS's stage two was transformed into a lovely restaurant for the play thanks to Ron Spencer, Jeff McNeil, Lori Perdue and John Doti.

A Letter from Ethel Kennedy continues through Feb. 26 at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave., 685-TOTS, www.tots.org.

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