‘From Dust Thou Art’ takes center stage


Maldonado_DustPlay10By Heather Hoelscher
Assistant Features Editor

California State University, Bakersfield’s theatre presented “From Dust Thou Art” at the Doré Theatre on Thursday night.

“From Dust Thou Art”, written by Peter Grego, was adapted from the oral history collection of the California Odyssey Project.

The play was directed by Mandy Rees, with sets and lighting designed by Chris Eicher, costumes designed by Rodger Upton, choreography by Shari Fortino and music by Peggy Sears.
The set was designed to look like the 1930’s countryside with three screens in the background showing videos and photograph from the dust bowl era.

The actors did a great job at speaking in that Arkansas accent, and sounded very authentic. They brought their characters to life.

The cast and crew produced a wonderful play about the struggles of the dust bowl era and the stories from the people who experienced it firsthand.

The costumes were very accurate to the time period. It was great to see the actors in these clothes and speaking in the accents. With the background showing pictures and video of those times, it was really well done and it made you feel like you were right there with them.

The Walter Stein Library has the collection of the detailed interviews and the first person accounts of what these people went through. Grego drew from these collections to produce this theatrical piece.

The “From Dust Thou Art,“ production had premiered at the Doré Theatre in 1983 and it has returned for the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath,” celebration.

Nick Frey a theatre major played the various characters very well. He got into the different characters easily and shows the different emotions each one had.

“I’ve always been running around the house singing and I always wanted to act out things I saw on TV,” Mariah Johnson said, a Theatre Arts major, who has been acting and singing since she could remember.

“I think [the play] went well. I think we did exactly what we were supposed to do, have fun and we definitely educated some people. Someone came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t realize what it was like for them and we didn’t realize they really build up the towns around here,’” Johnson said.Maldonado_DustPlay9

Since this story is such a historic part of California Frey felt honored to get to tell people the stories of these people.
Johnson wanted to educate people who are from here and those who aren’t.

“I always want to convey a message that some people might not get day to day. The thing about theatre is it can bring messages to you without you even knowing it. Subliminally you’re learnings things. I want them to see what it was like,” Johnson said.

“I love [playing these characters]. It was really challenging because mine was a more serious role,” she said.

Kim Brown, audience member and mother of DeNaé Brown, who is in the production, thought the play was really good.

“I enjoyed the whole play. Our family comes from the dust bowl so it was very interesting to see all the people and the interviews they collected,” Brown said.
“It was really well done and it depicted that era, the sadness and desperation, well,” she said.

A line from the play that suggested how they were judged when they came here was particularly interesting. It suggested that if you had one mattress on the top of your car you were poor, if you had two you were doing all right and if you had three, well then you were doing much better than the others. This line stood out because the actor spoke this line in a humorous way.
Pauline Best experienced the Dust Bowl time first hand and this type of judgment.

Maldonado_DustPlay3“I’m from Arkansas and [the play] sounded just like the way we came out here. They stopped us at the border and we had three mattresses. We just got a maid by the Red Cross in Arkansas because the flood took everything else. So they stopped us and they put our mattresses in some kind of steamer to kill any boll weevils.

“My grandpa had a house for us and a job at a labor camp here in Buttonwillow. So we didn’t have to fight like they did but I had seen [people] fighting for jobs,” Best said.
Heather Bennett, a CSUB theatre graduate, grew up hearing her grandma, Pauline Best, stories.

“I grew up hearing her stories but it was kind of great hearing other people’s stories because I didn’t know [the other stories]. Hers is different she had a job when they came out her. Others had to fight. It was just really interesting hearing other stories as well.

“I love the singing, because my grandma would sing. They would have these groups and it was great. I grew up with the that kind of music,” Bennett said.

The play was very emotional; these stories were told in such a way that the audience can feel the struggles and pain those in the Dust Bowl endured.