For those who may have seen too many well-intentioned productions of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” the SeaGlass Theater is presenting “Of Grapes and Nuts,” an affectionate send-up of the two plays, written by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth. The show respects John Steinbeck’s intent, but gleefully deflates any moments of pomposity with plentiful jokes — some corny, some clever. The West Coast premiere at the Victory Theater Center is delightful, with Paul Stroili’s tight direction of a terrific cast mining myriad laughs from poverty and tragedy.
Tom Joad (Ian Vogt) has just returned home from a stint in prison with his simple friend Lenny (David Reynolds) in tow, only to find that his family is leaving Oklahoma. Ma Joad (Casey Kramer) and Pa Joad (Lauren McCormack) are hoping to get farm jobs in California, so Tom and Lenny travel with them. Upon arriving in the Golden State, they find work at a peach orchard, but quickly discover that things are no easier there.
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Kramer steals the show as flinty-eyed Ma. She turns a monologue on Pretty Boy Floyd being turned into a “crazy chunk of mean mad” by the system into a comedic tour de force. Vogt excels as Tom, frequently staring soulfully at the horizon for no particular reason, and he nails the famous final speech: “If there are cops beatin’ a guy, I’ll be there…(hiding) in the bushes…” Reynolds makes for a memorable Lenny, especially when he tries to give a dead mouse mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and David Ghilardi is slyly hilarious in multiple parts.
Under Stroili’s direction, the production is swift paced, and joke after joke hits its mark. Armstrong, Cooper and Willmorth have crafted a very funny show, with several bits that feel like instant classics and dialogue about penny candy and bread loaves that take surprising turns to the ultimate resting place of Pa Joad.
David George’s handsome pseudo-wooden-board set adds appropriately rustic flavor, and Efrain Schunior’s sound design features some effects that add notably to the production.