After years of successful Shakespeare Under the Stars performances in Turlock, producers decided this year to give audiences an outdoor theater experience featuring a different writer, John Steinbeck.
Thus, Steinbeck Under the Stars will take to the amphitheater stage at California State University, Stanislaus, on evenings from May 2 to 7, with the classic tale “Of Mice and Men.”
“We have done a Shakespeare performance for the last seven years but felt that the audience was ready for something a little different,” Professor John Mayer, who will produce the play next month, said in an email interview. He said after this year’s Steinbeck nod, the drama department will re-evaluate next season on whether the Bard will return to the annual production.
“We want to try to keep this as an event that will continue to grow with both local business support and still remain free to the public,” Mayer said. “We have had over 3,500 people see the show annually over the past years. This a gift from CSU Stanislaus to the community. Regardless of whether or not we do Shakespeare, we want to offer a production that will be broadly appealing and provide an outlet for people to enjoy the best of what our campus has to offer.”
The free production, sponsored by Turlock’s Emanuel Medical Center, also will feature bluegrass duo Faux Renwah, who will perform a pre-show concert and also provide transitional music and underscoring throughout the play. The epic drama is the story of the friendship between George and Lennie, two itinerant workers in California during the Great Depression.
This will be “a pretty traditional telling of this Steinbeck masterpiece,” Mayer said. “The addition of the live music ... will add to the appeal of the show. It is a beautiful story of a deep friendship and we hope that the simplicity of the story will shine through unfettered by theatricality.”
The cast includes students and one professor from CSU Stanislaus and one professional guest artist, Rush Pearson. Pearson is a graduate of Northwestern University and has been working as a professional actor for 40 years. “We are lucky to have him,” Mayer said.
Because a number of scenes from “Of Mice and Men” take place in the outdoors, the open air amphitheater complements the tale, he said.
“There is nothing quite like sitting out with your family and friends and watching live theater on a beautiful evening,” Mayer said. “Bring food and set up a nice picnic and make an evening of it.”
Mayer chose the play because of its historic ties to the Central Valley and the overall accessibility of the language.
“This is a story,” he said, “that everyone can relate to on some level.”
“Of Mice and Men”
When: Gates open 6:30 p.m., show 8 p.m. May 2-7
Where: California State University, Stanislaus, Amphitheatre, 1 University Circle, Turlock