John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men

September 11 - 20
Buskirk-Chumley Theater

Herald-Times Preview

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Steinbeck play opens Cardinal Stage’s season

If your exposure to the words “Tell me about the rabbits, George” is limited to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, you need to get out more. Might I suggest the Buskirk-Chumley Theater?

55ea7a1b57295.imageIt’s there that Cardinal Stage Company is bringing John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” to life beginning this week. Originally written as a novella in 1937, Steinbeck quickly realized that adapting the book into play form would give it legs, literally and figuratively. The following year, he won a New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play Award.

It’s the story of George and Lennie, two migrant workers in the prime of their lives during the Great Depression. Circumstances have forced them to wander the West, taking whatever short-term jobs they can, just to survive. George is small and scrappy, with a great deal of street smarts and a powerful survival instinct. Lennie, in contrast, is physically large but very slow intellectually — a child in a man’s body. They look out for each other, with George highly protective of his often-naive companion.

Fate takes the pair to a California ranch, where Lennie immediately and unfairly receives the scorn of Curley, the boss’ insecure son. All Lennie wants to do is a good day’s work, so he can one day share a farm of his own with George, where they can raise rabbits. He loves furry animals, but with his sheer size, they often accidentally die in his hands. This could not possibly lead to more serious trouble later in the play with larger mammals. No spoilers here.

Cardinal’s chief ranch hand, artistic director Randy White, is probably thrilled to have such a fine production. He told me, “I couldn’t be more thrilled to launch our 2015-2016 ‘Misfits’ season with Steinbeck’s landmark drama.” (See? Told ya.) “Most students read the novella in school — but Steinbeck thought of the story as a play on the page, and he wrote his own stage adaptation. As a result, his play is remarkably true to his original story. But it is as live theater that Steinbeck’s story really electrifies.”

Having read the novella and seen the play, I have to agree with Randy. The stage adaptation is powerful and moving. Last year, a Broadway production soared with Chris O’Dowd as Lennie. James Franco also appeared in that production, suffering from an ongoing case of being James Franco, for which there seems to be no cure.

Fear not — the Cardinal production is Franco-free. Bloomington’s beloved Mike Price portrays George. Yep, you can already picture him. Joining him is Indiana Repertory Theater favorite Robert Neal as Lennie. Also in the cast are Ken Farrell and Mia Fitzgibbon in supporting roles. Under the director’s able guidance, I know they’ll bring Steinbeck’s heart-wrenching story to life.

Cardinal is initiating their Play it Forward program, which allows each adult ticketholder to bring a teenaged companion to the show for free. When you get your tickets — and I hope you will — consider bringing a special teen in your life to a show that will inspire meaningful discussion.

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.