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April 11, 2013

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John Steinbeck never heard of “the 47 percent.” But most of the people he wrote about—from the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath” to Mack and the boys in “Cannery Row” and Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men”—knew quite a bit about being on the downside of the American Dream.

The lure of that Dream, and its betrayal of many who cling to it, is perhaps more poignant now, as millions continue to struggle, than at any time since the Great Depression of Steinbeck’s time. Which makes the revival of the dramatized version of “Of Mice and Men,” coming into town for one performance at UTC as part of the Patten Performances Series, particularly timely. Fast-talking George and his slow friend Lennie have achieved such iconic status over the years that they are sometimes caricatured, but that doesn’t make them any less heartbreaking.

Joe Tisa is a member of this year’s The Acting Company ensemble, the prestigious professional troupe that is, as Tisa points out, one of the last full-Equity touring rep companies. He plays Candy, the one-handed farm worker in “Of Mice and Men,” the older man whose days of usefulness are drawing rapidly to a close, like those of his old dog. There is no “safety net”—no Social Security, no Medicare. When he can no longer work—that’s his problem.

“Then these two guys, George and Lennie, come to the farm and rekindle his dreams,” says Tisa. “I tend to play characters who are suffering loss and betrayal.” Though Tisa’s never been a farm hand, he notes that actors can naturally relate to characters who have an itinerant life with no security. The company spent a long time in rehearsal working on what that life in the ’30s must have been, what living in a bunk house with a bunch of other men who know no other life must have been like.

The company’s been on the road with the show since autumn, garnering excellent reviews in New York, and indeed wherever they’ve played, including around Steinbeck’s California birthplace.

“We played in Carmel and several places around the Salinas Valley,” Tisa says, “and you could feel the engagement from the audience. People hold the story dear there, but they do all over the country.”

“Of Mice and Men” is a classic—“but it’s not a museum piece,” says Tisa. Each new generation sees what it needs to see in Lennie and George, Candy and his dog and all the other characters on that farm in Central California.

Patten Performances Series Presents The Acting Company “Of Mice and Men”

$22/$15 students (with I.D.) • 7:30 p.m. • Monday, April 15 • Roland Hayes Concert Hall • UTC Fine Arts Center Vine & Palmetto Streets • (423) 425-4269 • utc.edu

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April 11, 2013

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