by Rita Charleston
More than seven decades old, John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” may be one of his most poignant and long-lasting works in the canon of American novels. Also adapted into a play and the the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Tony Award for Best Play, this quintessential American drama is currently being presented at Allens Lane Theater, 601 West Allens Lane, through Oct. 8. It is directed by Josh Hitchens.
The play tells the story of the Joad family. Devastated by the dust bowl disaster that hit the Midwest in the 1930s, the Joads are driven by hope to find a better life in California. Performed by a diverse ensemble of actors and filled with music and song, “The Grapes of Wrath” is an epic celebration of the human spirit and the determination to survive.
Appearing in the role of Rose of Sharon, the Joads’ daughter, is Williamsport, PA, native Stephanie Stoner. According to Stoner, who is making her debut at Allens Lane, “Rose of Sharon is young, maybe about 17 or 18, married and expecting her first child. I see her as naive. She’s a high-spirited and saucy girl who is kind of clueless.”
And the fact that the “Grapes of Wrath” remains popular after all these years doesn’t surprise Stoner. “’The Grapes of Wrath’ is continually read in high schools and colleges due to its historical content and enduring legacy. And with all the things happening in our world today, I think it’s still relevant.”
Because Stoner is 30, it might have been quite difficult to play a character much younger. “But thanks to our director, it was much easier. When we first started reading through the play, he would stop us periodically after reading a line and ask why we read it that way and what we were thinking at that moment. We also described ourselves by our character’s name and not our own. So before long we became that character.”
Stoner’s first time to try and become a certain character was when she was in the fourth grade and had a role in the school’s production of “Pirates of Penzance.” It was that role that lightened her spirits and helped her see a kind of magic. “I watched a video of people singing and dancing. It looked like so much fun that from that moment on I was smitten with performing.”
But when she left her hometown and headed to Philadelphia to attend the University of the Arts, she majored in Industrial Arts because, she explained, she wanted to take advantage of all the arts available at the university.
Today, while Stoner has appeared in several area theaters, she’s also kept her hand in the business world as well. Living in South Philadelphia with Steven, her “significant other” of eight years, she realizes she is now “an adult. At 30 I realize I can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. I have to make things happen. Off stage I work in a variety of things. I work for a jewelry company as a manufacturer of jewelry and a production editor. There are many tasks I enjoy pursuing.
“I don’t consider acting an actual career,” Stoner continues. “Oh, I wouldn’t mind being a full-time actress. but I’m not actively pursuing it at this moment. That’s not to say I wouldn’t mind if it came to pass.”
For times and ticket information call 215-248-0546.