The standard thinking in entertainment is that tough times tend to fuel the public’s appetite for pure escapism. But as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” becomes the anthem of economic anxiety, will poverty and hardship be reflected on the nation’s stages?

“It’s already affected us,” says Christopher Ashley, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse. “Currently, with ‘Tobacco Road,’ which I programmed over a year ago, audiences totally see the play through the lens of another possible Great Depression. A show I thought was pertinent is now hyper-pertinent.”

In the same way the mood of the past few years has dictated a wave of political and war plays, Ashley expects that programmers will be prompted by the economic malaise to produce both new and existing works that offer either a direct or oblique commentary on our belt-tightening times.

“If a play rhymes with the world today, audiences will see it through the current situation,” he says. “Artistic directors are very interested in thinking about what’s happening in the world.”

While it’s not a major leap to imagine theaters across the country dusting off Steinbeck adaptations, programmers also are expecting new work inspired by the global collapse of the financial markets.

“If the times are defined enough, the art comes out of them,” suggests Center Theater Group a.d. Michael Ritchie. “I would hope we’ll get some good plays out of all this.”