Have you ever felt as if your heart has been ripped out and trampled on? Have you ever felt as if you’re not good enough, or that you’ll end up with a life you never wanted? Well, Steppenwolf Theatre’s (1650 N. Halsted St.) ensemble member, Frank Galati, adapted John Steinbeck’s East of Eden into a play that has it all. The show took me on a rollercoaster of emotions and to a place no play has ever taken me with its breathtaking sets, intelligent dry humor and a message that had me thinking all the way home.
In East of Eden Adam Trask (Tim Hopper) wants nothing more than to forget his past and start a new chapter in his life, which is exactly what happens when he meets his wife, Cathy (Kate Arrington). They settle down on a farm in Salinas, California where Cathy gives birth to twin boys, Aron and Caleb, (Casey Thomas Brown and Aaron Himelstein), soon after. However, with sibling rivalry and the threat of World War I looming over their heads, things take a turn for the worst which results in an ending no one expected (unless you read the book).
Audience members wouldn’t expect any comedy from such a dramatic plot; however, it was pleasantly surprising that the adaption provided the exact opposite. Sarcastic and witty lines were strategically placed and perfectly blended in with each scene. The naivety, and at times cluelessness, of Caleb and unfathomable coldness of Cathy left the audience with a few chuckles and laugh-until-your-stomach-hurts moments.
Heavy parts were lightened enough to remind the audience to enjoy the story, but not enough to take away the importance and seriousness of what each character was experiencing.
An aspect of theater which usually goes unnoticed is the set. In East of Eden, the set made each scene whole. Each set was detailed, but simple and did not steer the focus away from the characters. It added enough to complete the scene and helped the characters deliver their messages. The audience wasn’t left focusing on how big and beautiful or how small and distasteful the background was, but instead it was focused on the development of each character throughout the story.
What was most impressive and in a way made the play worth watching, was the portrayal of Cathy. At the beginning of the play, I absolutely hated Cathy as a character because she abandoned her sons and treated others horribly. Although I loathed the type of person Cathy was, by the first intermission I realized that was also the same reason I loved her. Arrington brought Cathy to life in a way her fellow actors did not accomplish with their own characters. Arrington became Cathy Trask and fully committed to making sure she did her character justice, and she 100 percent did by maintaining her detached persona and wicked attitude throughout the play.
While the play was three hours long including two intermissions, I can’t imagine how the show could have gone any differently. Not having read the book wasn’t a disadvantage as some might say, because I was still able to follow along quite easily. Of course details were left out, but if they weren’t the play would have been never ending. I think the right scenes and moments were chosen so that as a whole, it all still made sense and the important life events were highlighted. Overall, with a remarkable cast, a balanced script and valuable lessons to learn, this play is definitely worth seeing this fall.
East of Eden runs through Nov. 15 with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday performances at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Single tickets are $20 and student tickets are $15 with a valid student I.D. Tickets can be purchased here.