Arts & Entertainment

Richland Players start season with a classic

Of Mice and Men is one of those classic tales of doom and gloom.

Written in 1937 by Nobel Prize-winning writer John Steinbeck, it follows the tragic tale of two drifters -- cynical George Milton and dim-witted gentle giant Lennie Small -- as they try to find work during the Great Depression.

The Richland Players will kick off their 2011-12 theater season with the stage version of this story Sept. 9 at The Players Theatre in Richland. Performances continue Sept. 10, 16-17, 23-24. Curtain time is 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee Sept. 18.

Tri-City actors Michael Thomas and Mark Humann play George and Lennie. The show is directed by Bill Allen.

Of Mice and Men takes place in the agricultural valley of Northern California where the two displaced migrant ranch workers find jobs.

But trouble brews when the two are confronted by the ranch boss's small-statured son, Curley, who has a mean spirit and strong dislike of big men like Lennie. Curley's portrayed by Michael Wutzke.

Just when it looks like George and Lennie will finally get a place of their own, all hell breaks loose when Lennie kills Curley's wife.

The wife is a lonely and spiteful woman who flirts with her husband's ranch hands. She recognizes Lennie's simple mind and his love of stroking soft things like puppies and kittens.

For attention she invites the burly man to stroke her hair, but Lennie doesn't know his own strength and that scares her and she starts screaming. In his panic to silence her screams, Lennie accidentally breaks her neck.

To save his simple-minded friend from a lynch mob, George shoots his friend in the back of the head to save him from an otherwise cruel death by Curley.

Playing the role of Lennie fit Humann's 6-foot-5 stature, but the mentally challenged personality of his character was a test of his talent, he said.

"I've been acting for more than 20 years, and this role has definitely been the most challenging," he said. "Learning how to act dumb without being offensive is harder than I thought."

Telling a depressing story of the past when the country is suffering its own 21st century hardships does hold a certain philosophy.

"Even though times are hard right now, this story makes you realize that life can always be worse, that when times are tough you must suck it up and move on," Humann said.

The story Of Mice and Men was based on Steinbeck's own life when he was a homeless man in the 1920s. He would later write another novel based on that Depression-era experience -- The Grapes of Wrath.

Here's a look at the rest of The Players season:

-- My Three Angels, a holiday comedy, is Nov. 4-5, 11-12, 18-19

-- Sleuth, a cat-and-mouse thriller, is Jan. 13-14, 20-21, 27-28.

-- Dearly Beloved, a family comedy, is March 9-10, 16-17, 23-24.

-- The Trip to Bountiful, a drama, is May 4-5, 11-12, 18-19.

Tickets to all Players' performances are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. They can be purchased at the box office at 608 The Parkway or at www.richlandplayers.org.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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