Photo contributed by Richard Termine
Joseph Midyett (left), Joseph Tisa and Christopher Michael McFarland appear in The Acting Company's production of John Steinbeck's classic "Of Mice and Men." The show is coming to the Clemens Fine Arts Center on Sunday.
Christopher Michael McFarland knew he had some big shoes to fill when it came to playing Lennie Small in The Acting Company’s staging of John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic “Of Mice and Men.”
The play follows Lennie and George Milton, two migrant ranch workers searching for work in California during the Great Depression. The simple-minded, childlike Lennie has been played on the screen by such actors as John Malkovich and Randy Quaid.
“Any time you take on a classic role, there are some nerves about escaping the ghosts of the past, the actors that played (the character) before you,” said McFarland, a California native.
That was just one of the challenges that came with portraying the character, whose mental differences often perplex audiences. McFarland said people often want to know what exactly Lennie’s condition is, and Steinbeck never gives an easy answer.
“I think Lennie, in some ways, is bigger than a diagnosis. I didn’t pick one mental difference and just play that. My task was to ...really dig into what Steinbeck wrote, and play the relationship with George,” McFarland said.
Lennie and George share a unique friendship based on the common dream of owning a farm and caring for rabbits. While Lennie’s love for soft things eventually leads to his undoing, McFarland says he doesn’t see “Of Mice and Men” as solely a tragedy.
“I think Steinbeck is writing very deliberately about the power that love has to transform individuals,” McFarland said. “One of the things the audience takes away from this performance is how contagious love can be.”
The Acting Company’s artistic director, Ian Belknap, agrees. He describes the play as being about friendship in the direst of times.
“This play is who we are in our bones. We all have the ambition and the yearning for something we don’t have, whether it’s a piece of land or a place to call home. I think anyone can relate to that feeling, regardless of economic or social status,” said Belknap, who staged and directed the touring production of the play.
Belknap added that the financial circumstances of the characters may also resonate with today’s audiences.
“Certainly there are corollaries between 1937 and the economic crash and the social divide of where we are now,” Belknap said. “It’s (about) people needing people and trying to survive. ... It speaks to our humanity.”
“Of Mice and Men” will be coming to the Clemens Fine Arts Center at West Kentucky Community & Technical College at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Clemens Fine Arts Center Director Gail Robinson-Butler expressed excitement about bringing The Acting Company, a nationally renowned troupe, to Paducah.
Founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley in 1972, The Acting Company has brought 138 productions to 49 states and 10 foreign countries, and earned numerous awards, including a 2003 Tony Award for excellence in theater. Actors such as Kevin Kline, Rainn Wilson and Francis Conroy began their careers on tour with The Acting Company.
Tickets to Sunday’s production cost $25 for adults and $15 for students. For reservations or more information, visit artsinfocus.org, or call the box office at 270-534-3212.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.
Want to go?
What: “Of Mice and Men”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Clemens Fine Arts Center, campus of West Kentucky Community & Technical College, 4810 Alben Barkley Drive.
Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for students. For reservations or more information, visit artsinfocus.org, or call the box office at 270-534-3212.