From Book to Stage: Tobacco Road Lives up to Snuff

From l, Fiona Rose Stout, Stacey Tilford, Brad Kahn, Todd An-drew Ball, and Ilona Kulinska in “Tobacco Road.”

Based on the 1932 novel by Erskine Caldwell, and magnificently adapted by Jack Kirkland for an amazing 8-year Broadway run in 1933, Tobacco Road graces the stage at the Raven Playhouse, directed by Biz Lyon and produced by BJ Wright. Introducing the show with his immense talent, guitarist/songwriter Kevin Buchmeier sets the play’s somber tone, with soulful bluegrass-style music and insightful lyrics of past and present times.

How history repeats itself throughout the ages … with financial depression, drought, family dysfunction. Art again imitates life, as the audience is drawn into the world of the Lesters, a family of poor white Southern farmers, outsideAugusta,Georgia, estranged by commercial industrialization.

The main protagonist is Jeeter Lester (Brad Kahn), an ignorant, sinful man, redeemed by his love of the land and the forever promise of fertile soil. Set in the Great Depression, as in The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck, Tobacco Road is a true Southern gothic classic drama. The scenes, set, costumes, and characters depicted are reminiscent of playwright Carson McCullers’ dark family drama The Square Root of Wonderful, also recently presented at the Raven.

Ada, played by Stacey Tilford, is emotionally torn between her man and her hunger pangs of tobacco/snuff. Her only escape from this seemingly “No Exit” situation, this unsettling life of hers, and the tragic, unstable relationship between her and Lester — amidst severe poverty — is a longing for death, “to be buried in a most stylish dress.”

The two daughters, Ellie May (Ilona Kulinska) andPearl(Fiona Stout) are timid characters, with shades of figures right out of a Greek tragedy.Pearl, emotionally ravaged, and Ellie May, physically deformed, are played flawlessly by the two actresses. Young actor Bradley Roa, as Dude, is quite convincing as a wayward lost soul, manipulated and seduced by the alluring Sister Bessie (Suz Campbell). The theme of the play runs rampant throughout: all are attempting to escape their horrible reality and suffering, an eternal theme of great literature and theater.

Tobacco Road runs through Sept. 1 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. The Raven Playhouse is located at5233 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit brownpapertickets.com/event/262712. For more information, email your questions to thefrenchbroad@hotmail.com.


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