I was born in 1945. Came from Mexico 150 miles from the border. Brought over as an infant with my mom. Landed in Tulare County in California; moved to Fresno. I was out in the field when I was 8 or 9. Back breaking work sun up to sun down. You eat as you go. No shade, no restrooms, no water jugs, water and food you carried with you.
Frank R., migrant worker
Think of “Blue Willow,” the new original play by Pamela Sterling making its world premiere at Fresno State, as the central San Joaquin Valley’s “Grapes of Wrath.”
So says theater professor J. Daniel Herring, who is directing the innovative show. Here’s a rundown:
The source material: “Blue Willow” is a young-adult book written by Doris Gates, a longtime Fresno librarian, and published in 1940. The book is the story of a migrant girl who longs for a permanent home. It was a Newbery honor book in 1941. The Fresno State play is inspired by the book, Herring says, but is different enough not to be considered an adaptation.
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The storyline: One of the innovative aspects of Sterling’s script is the way she structured the play, Herring says. There’s a traditional linear narrative that follows two migrant farmworker families – one Latino, one white – starting in the 1930s as they make their lives in the Valley. That storyline is fictional.
The families: The paths of the Larkin and Romero families cross because of daughters Janey (Chlorissa Prothro) and Lupe (Karina Rodriguez). They persevere through poverty and hard work in the fields during the Great Depression.
Historical vignettes: Interspersed with the narrative, vignettes from migrant farmworkers are sprinkled throughout. These accounts range from the Depression to the Great Recession. In some cases they’re based on Sterling’s research and in others on recent oral histories. These mini-biographical moments add texture and context to the overall narrative.
The production: Fresno State hopes to break new ground in its use of video projection in the show. The use of monologue and song adds other creative dimensions.
The significance: “To bring a world premiere to the campus of Fresno State that is representative of the diversity of our university, and gives our students, and community, the chance to connect with characters that reflect their own narratives is a tremendous honor,” Herring said.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. May 12-14
- John Wright Theatre, Fresno State
- www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/theatrearts, 559-278-2216
- $17, $10 students