Meet the Lesters: Tobacco Road, Paved Anew at La Jolla Playhouse, Opens Oct. 5 | Playbill

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News Meet the Lesters: Tobacco Road, Paved Anew at La Jolla Playhouse, Opens Oct. 5 Tobacco Road, a smash on Broadway during the Depression but rarely revived today, opens Oct. 5 after previews from Sept. 30 at the La Jolla Playhouse, introducing a new generation to novelist Erskine Caldwell's hardscrabble Georgia characters, the Lester family.
Tobacco Road stars Lucy Ann Albert and Mary Deaton Photo by J.T. MacMillan

The play fascinated audiences for a Broadway run that lasted 1933-41. It remains the second longest-running play in Broadway history, after Life With Father.

Performances of the revival, directed by David Schweizer, continue to Oct. 26 at the Mandell Weiss Forum at La Jolla Playhouse in California.


According to La Jolla notes, "Tobacco Road's savage humor, religiosity and bold sexuality shocked Depression-era audiences and critics alike when it was first dramatized for the stage in 1933 by Jack Kirkland. It was based on Erskine Caldwell's novel, 'Tobacco Road,' published in 1932."

The La Jolla production "promises to astound a new generation with its emotionally gripping and glaringly truthful look at humanity. In a ramshackle farm in Georgia during the Great Depression, the Lester family has become squatters on their own land. With no money, fuel or seed, their future on the farm seems hopeless. Unmoved by his wife's pleas for a new life in the city, his daughter's misery with her lecherous new husband, or his son's questionable love affair with a traveling female preacher, stubborn patriarch Jeeter isn't going anywhere. Their unbearable hunger and desperation causes a shattering endgame, in which a final act of compassion outshines the meanness of their lives." The cast features Lucy Ann Albert (Grandma); Catherine Curtin (Sister Bessie); Kate Dalton (Ellie May); Mary Deaton (Pearl); John Fleck (Jeeter Lester), known as one of the now legendary "NEA Four," performance artists that challenged censorship in the United States Supreme Court; Joel J. Gelman (George Payne); Jan Leslie Harding (Ada Lester); Jesse MacKinnon (Henry Peabody); Chris Reed (Lov Bensey); Sam Rosen (Dude Lester); and Josh Wade (Captain Tim, u/s Dude).

Schweizer won an Obie Award for directing Rinde Eckert's And God Created Great Whales. The creative team includes sound designer and composer Shahrokh Yadegari, scene and costume designer David Zinn, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, voice and dialect coach Annie Hinton, fight master George Yé, dramaturg Gabriel Greene, stage manager Anjee Nero and assistant stage manager Annette Yé.

Director Schweizer said in a statement, "Tobacco Road is no-holds-barred theatre that fascinated 1930s audiences in part because it commented on their precarious Depression era lifestyle in a provocative and surprising way. Once again, now, it has intense contemporary relevance, in fact, it couldn't be more timely given our current economic crises. Yet, there is also something about the play's portrait of survival and human resourcefulness — scrappy, cunning human resourcefulness in the face of unbearable odds — that I find inspiring."

This production contains adult content, nudity and graphic language.

Although it's rarely staged, the play was seen as recently as 2007 in a production at Triad Stage, the resident Equity theatre in Greensboro, NC.

For more information about California's La Jolla Playhouse, visit


Led by artistic director Christopher Ashley, the Playhouse was founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer, and is now considered one of the most well respected not-for-profit theatres in Southern California.

Jan Leslie Harding, Mary Deaton and John Fleck in Tobacco Road Photo by J.T. MacMillan
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