Steppenwolf Theatre celebrates 40th anniversary with ‘East of Eden’

By Dana Mack Contributing Writer

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel “East of Eden” that is scheduled to run through Nov. 17 at 1650 N. Halsted St.

Frank Galati, the adaptor of “East of Eden,” and a Steppenwolf ensemble member, said there are difficulties that come with adapting a novel to the stage. 

Galati said the main challenge of adapting a novel is the fact that novels are lengthy, making it challenging to bring a novel to the stage in its entirety. “The audience would be sitting for many hours,” Galati said. “Even if you eliminated the narration and only presented the dialogue, you would still have a very long, unwieldy and unstructured kind of text.”

Galati has also adapted “The Grapes of Wrath” for Steppenwolf in 1988. Galati said that there were some similarities in his approach to adapting both novels because the two novels come from the same author.

Galati explained that “East of Eden” and “The Grapes of Wrath” are two completely different stories, but they are consistent with Steinbeck’s mission and passion. He added that “The Grapes of Wrath” is an epic drama, while “East of Eden” is a mythic story. 

“Though “East of Eden” was published in 1952, the story will still resonate with audiences today,” said Jeanne Petrolle, an associate professor in the English Department.

Petrolle said, “‘East of Eden’ is about families and individuals struggling to survive and thrive in the world, struggling to establish some kind of prosperity and security for themselves.” 

Petrolle said these themes are still as relevant today as they were in 1952, because the search for love, security and prosperity still structures the lives of most families and individuals today.

The story of “East of Eden” involves topics like drugs, prostitution and murder. Petrolle does not think the plot will surprise playgoers who are not already familiar with the story, adding, “I don’t see how it could shock viewers familiar with dramas like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘House of Cards,’ and ‘’Scandal.’”

“East of Eden” has been in preview at Steppenwolf since Sept. 17th and Galati said audiences seem to be very absorbed in the performances so far. He said viewers seem to follow the theme and meaning of the story, and that those who know the novel well seem to think it has been effectively brought to life. 

“The conversations that we’ve had with audience members upon leaving the theatre have been very gratifying,” Galati said. 

Students can get tickets for $15 with a valid student ID. More information on student discount tickets can be found at steppenwolf.org/students. Regular tickets run at $20-$89 and can be purchased at steppenwolf.org.

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