The Steppenwolf Theatre Company gained international acclaim when it won a Tony Award for their 1989 production of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” and now they open their 40th season with the spectacularly tension-filled “East of Eden.”
As if the choice of a Steinbeck piece wasn’t enough to elicit the throwback feelings, the book was adapted by ensemble member Frank Galati, who received a Tony Award for his adaptation of “Grapes of Wrath,” and the production is directed by Steppenwolf co-founder Terry Kinney. With a great source, adaptor, director, and cast, “East of Eden” creates that hang-off-of-every-word drama that audiences salivate over in Steppenwolf productions.
Of course, the source material is already filled with that tension. With a large inheritance, Adam Trask is trying to escape his past by starting a new life in Salinas Valley California for himself, his morally-inept wife Cathy, and their troubled twin boys Caleb and Aron. The foundation of the play lies in whether good and evil is something that is inherited or a choice. If it is inherited can we change it?
The struggle is so ingrained in humans that it would take talented actors to give it the effort it deserves and all the players in this production do. Every single actor in this production will evoke strong and jarring emotions out of audiences. One of the highlights is Aaron Himelstein, Caleb Trask, who plays conflicted so well that I wouldn’t be surprised if I instinctively gave him a hug if I ever seem him on the street. If you look around the audience whenever Kate Arrington, Cathy Trask, is on stage you’ll likely see utter disgust in the people’s faces because she plays Cathy’s moral indifference perfectly. For the much-needed heart and, at times, comic relief Stephen Park, Lee, will certainly leave you clutching your chest and curling your lip.
When Steinbeck wrote “East of Eden” it came well after many of his other great books, and he considered it his magnum opus probably because it involved much more introspection. The line from the book “It’s too easy to excuse yourself because of your ancestry,” while about family traits, can also be something Steinbeck thought to himself in terms of not resting on the laurels of his previous achievements. With this production, Steppenwolf continues to show that no matter the amount of praise it has received over its 40-year history it still attacks every production with a respect and fire that always results in an fascinated audience.
“East of Eden” is running through Nov. 15 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company located at 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets range from $20 – $89. For more information visit steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=639.