Hanford High drama teacher Matt Leggett isn't afraid to admit when a piece of literature moves him to tears.
"The first time I read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, I had a visceral response," he said. "It moved me. OK, I admit I cried."
That reaction to the classic tale is what encouraged him to have his drama students present the Of Mice and Men stage version, which opens Nov. 9 in the Hanford High auditorium in Richland.
When asked why he would want his students to tackle such a depressing play during depressing times, Leggett was surprised by the query.
"I don't think of the story as depressing," he said. "Poignant and sad, yes; depressing, no. It is hopeful because it expresses something true about being a human, and that is never depressing in my book."
Of Mice and Men follows the tale of two migrant farmworkers, Lennie Small and George Milton, during the Great Depression, and how their friendship survives loss, hardship and bigotry that was prevalent during a challenging time in American history.
Ian Gephart, a senior at Hanford High, portrays Lennie, and Tyler Zirker, a junior, plays George.
"Of Mice and Men is one of my favorite novels, so I was ecstatic at the chance to be a part of this theater adaptation," Gephart said. "Playing Lennie has presented obvious challenges, but the experience has been fulfilling. Our small cast and dedicated group of adults have crafted it into the deep, powerful show it deserves to be."
Zirker said portraying George has definitely been his most challenging role to date at Hanford High.
"The entirety of the plot is driven by George's want to live a perfect life with his friend Lennie on a little farm," Zirker said. "The majority of George's emotions play under the surface until they all burst out at once. This is not at all like me. I never have fond dreams of buying my own farm.
"And anyone can look at me and read my emotions instantly."
Samantha Fenton, a junior, is the only female cast member in the play. She plays the wife of an abusive ranch foreman.
"Working with a cast full of guys has been surprisingly entertaining," Fenton said.
It has also given her a new perspective.
"Being in this show with so many guys has allowed me to make bonds with people I wouldn't normally get to. I honestly sometimes forget I'm the only girl in the cast, and it's great."
Leggett believes the story of Lennie and George is one that transcends generations.
"I believe most people respond to this story because Of Mice and Men is a profound telling of the deep longings we all share," Leggett said. "Longing for true friendship, for a better world where we can live out our friends in safety and freedom, a place we can truly call our own. I am still moved by this story."
He's also moved to raise his resolve to dream of a better world and hopes his audience will be moved as well.
Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-10, 16-17. Admission is $8 adults, $6 students and seniors. Tickets are available at the door.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org