Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


The California Shakespeare Company is presently performing THE PASTURES OF HEAVEN a stage adaptation by award winning playwright Octavio Solis, based on a short story cycle by Pulitzer Prize (1939) and Nobel Prize (1962) winner John Steinbeck.


Steinbeck, a native of the Salinas Valley, he spent his early youth in Spreckels Junction: an unincorporated town at the intersection on the Southern Pacific Railroad.


The train passed through the valley sweeping up the abundant produce and delivering it to California canneries and lucrative markets back east.


Living very close to both the land and the people or this rural community provided Steinbeck with the requisite intimacy to compassionately portray their struggle to harvest a dream from what is arguably the most fertile region on the continent.


The personal stories contained in PASTURES OF HEAVEN can be identified, if not separated, into twelve semi-distinct intertwined threads.


The title comes from the exclamation of a Spanish corporal who was lead into the valley in pursuit of a band of runaway Indian Slaves—a.k.a. heathen apostates—who had escaped from forced labor at Mission Carmelo.


The corporal dubbed the niche Las Pasturas del Cielo, linking its enchanting natural beauty with the 23rd Psalm: "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters . . . "


If there is a central theme, it is the pain caused when well-intended people try to clumsily help or satisfy the needs of others or the push and the pull of two distinct beings trying to head down the road of life hitched to the same wagon.


This too was not terra incognita to Steinbeck: even before multiple marriages became fashionable, Steinbeck had three of them; certainly he was no stranger to the tug-of-wars that supplant marital bliss after the pheromones and hormones begin to shirk their conjugal duty.


A versatile set design by Annie Smart, transports the Bruns Memorial Amphitheater audience through time and space to a place in California history where the land and its newly arrived denizens were swelling with hope, promise and expectation.


It was a brief moment in California history when it seemed like Lennie Small's dream of "living of the fat of the land" was a distinct possibility.


Eleven ensemble members re-invent themselves, through props, accessories and costuming, as nearly forty characters.


Rod Gnapp, one of the bay area's premier actors, provides much of the comedy in this brisk sequence of vignettes that illuminates the pivotal points in the stories of the simple but ambitious people with complex lives.


This is a great show that skillfully depicts the hypnotic draw and the boundless promise of California in the early years of following it annexation, at the point of gun, from Mexico by the treaty concluded at Guadalupe-Hidalgo, February 2, 1848.


This is acting and California history at its best; it should not be missed.


To step back in time to the nascent days of California statehood, call the box office at 510-548-9666 or via the website at