Depression-era play still resonates

Preview: Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre takes on Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men.

Gary Farmer and David Ferry star in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre's production of Of Mice and Men.

 

It’s been at least six years since Gary Farmer was last on stage, but the chance to play an iconic character in a play that still resonates so strongly with a modern audience was enough to draw him back to the footlights.

The well-known aboriginal actor originally starred in John Steinbeck’s depression era masterpiece, Of Mice and Men, in the ’80s at Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay, Ont., when Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre artistic director Brian Richmond was at the helm there.

“This is one of the most profound and moving testaments to the ills in a society that is based on class structure that encourages a wide separation between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’,” says Richmond. “Sadly, even though the play premiered 75 years ago, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, as indicated with the still-continuing occupy wall-street movement, prove that this play is as pertinent now as it was during one of the worst periods in modern economic history.”

Of Mice and Men “is an excellent example of why classic works are still important,” continues Richmond. “Many of the themes in the play continue to be discussed today, such as homelessness, economic issues and loneliness in society.”

It’s this passion for the play that is reuniting the town men in the same roles — Farmer as Lennie, and Richmond as director — for Blue Bridge’s latest production.

“I’ve been so anxious to get back to the theatre,” says Farmer. “I knew this play and I knew the power of the piece, so it seemed like a good fit.”

And Farmer’s hefty stature feels like a good fit for the role of the gentle, often misunderstood giant.

Richmond called on Farmer at home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and offered him the role.

“My interest was peaked,” says Farmer. “I thought it would be an easy way to get back to the theatre … at 59 years old, I have to look like the strongest man in the world and I’m finding that adrenaline helps me ride through. It’s been almost thirty years,” he adds with a look of astonishment on his face.

And Richmond doesn’t doubt Farmer’s abilities in the slightest.

“He is, quite probably, the greatest aboriginal actor of his generation, in my opinion,” says Richmond. “He and I did this play together in another production once before and I can absolutely assure Victoria audiences that they will be witnessing one of the greatest performances I have witnessed in Canadian theatre.”

Farmer spent 15 years working as a theatre actor in Toronto in the ’70s and ’80s before he landed his first role in a feature film, Pow Wow Highway (which won the filmmaker’s trophy at the Sundance Film Festival and earned Farmer an Independent Spirit Award nomination for supporting male).

“The whole world opened up to me then,” says Farmer. “I’ve had quite a charmed career as an actor.”

He went on to co-star with Johnny Depp in Jim Jarmuch’s cult favourite film Dead Man  and held roles in many other feature films and TV series. Farmer was also the publisher of Aboriginal Voices magazine and was one of the founders of the Aboriginal Voices radio network.

“The beautiful thing about theatre is that you have to take on a whole other life. You eat, breathe and rehearse, and have so much attachment to the piece, and even after rehearsal is over it’s a real commitment. I really admire the discipline.”

Farmer’s co-star is Stratford Festival and Broadway veteran David Ferry in the role of George.

“Especially with this piece, I wanted to feel safe, and with the combination of Brian and David, I feel very comfortable,” says Farmer.

The rest of the cast is drawn from the ranks of the company’s growing ensemble; Brian Linds as Candy, Christopher Mackie as Slim, Ashley O’Connell as Curly, Michael Armstrong as Carlson, Laurence Dean Ifill as Crooks, James Leard as the Boss and newcomers Sebastien Archibald (of ITSAZOO theatre) as Whit and Samantha Richard as Curly’s Wife.

Pacific Opera Victoria’s Ian Rye has designed the set, Patricia Reilley the costumes, Rebekah Johnson the lights and Brian Linds the sound.

“I love Brian’s concept of mixing the young and the old,” says Farmer. “It’s vital work that needs to carry on. We need the arts to stay alive. It’s the only voice we have politically — everything else feels infiltrated.” M

 

Of Mice and Men

Opening Thursday, July 5

8pm at the McPherson Playhouse.

Tickets starting at $24.50

at rmts.bc.ca

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jen Hodge conducts an online concert during the pandemic after returning to B.C. from New York City. Photo courtesy Claudia Nobauer
Canada Recovery Benefit won’t replace the magic of live performance, musicians say

Cash will help, but its the audience connection that most performers miss — and crave

Mary Fox’s new book My Life as a Potter is available at bookstores nationwide. (Cole Schisler photo)
My Life as a Potter raises funds for Mary Fox Legacy Project

Acclaimed Vancouver Island potter’s story raising money for developing artists

Premier John Horgan and Rob Douglas, BC NDP candidate for Cowichan Valley, meet with Cowichan First Nation elders, as they demonstrate spearfishing along the river. (Submitted)
Horgan acknowledges A&E sector hit hard by COVID-19, but showing signs of recovery

Hollywood North doing better than Hollywood South, Horgan says

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann will play the same piano at the Port Theatre on Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy Best Days Ever Photography)
Piano duo perform on one piano in Nanaimo return to live performance

Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann present first live, in-person concert since March

Leaking Time by Oak Bay resident Ilka Bauer is the winning entry of the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Ilka Bauer Image)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

Gatineau artist Michèle Provost visits the Malaspina Galleries during her artist residency on Gabriola Island. (Photo supplied)
Gatineau artist the first to take part in new Gabriola Island artist residency

Michèle Provost to create art book reflecting on the positives of aging

Legendary Vancouver-based blues and jazz guitarist and vocalist Jim Byrnes will perform live at the Tidemark Theatre in a concert that will also be streamed. Contributed photo
Legendary blues musician and actor Jim Byrnes hits the Island

Playing Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre for a hybrid live/online show

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, Oakbay.ca video)
Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, Oakbay.ca video)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Most Read