For a show about the pursuing the American Dream, it seems fitting that its directors are equally passionate about the material. Of course, the outcome for the production of "Of Mice and Men," opening Friday at The Empty Space, is likely to be much more uplifting than the fates of the show's protagonists.
The play, based on John Steinbeck's 1937 novel, is directed by Bob Kempf and Kayleigh Peaker. Kempf said they both separately brought the show to one of the theater's pitch days. The timing was good — the show had last been performed at The Empty Space in 2004 — and the pair, much like George and Lennie in the story, decided to team up.
"Luckily we’re friends," Kempf said. And both had similar ideas for the show.
"We shared almost everything. We would trade off maybe staging things, and always check with each other. It was a little bit of a compromise."
Set during the Great Depression, the show stars Nick Ono as George, a migrant farmworker traveling with Lennie (Travyon T. Fletcher), an innocent-natured man whose strength overwhelms his mental capabilities. Driven from job to job, they dream of saving up for land of their own.
"They're pursing a dream bigger than what their life is at the moment. The play is very much about dreams and reaching for something bigger than themselves."
With its California setting and farmworker focus, the book is commonly taught in local schools. And Kempf said they've sent letters out to some middle-school English teachers to let them know they're doing the show.
The show also stars Brittany Beaver, Ryan Lee, Nolan Long, Travis McElroy, Brent Starrh, Carlos Vera, Shaquille Hill and Kempf, who plays the boss at the ranch.
Kempf knows his way around the stage for this show, having starred as Lennie in the 2004 local show as well as a performing in a production as a teen.
From that early brush with the material, he said connects with the introduction scene.
"When we meet George and Lennie and they're camping under the stars ... The characters are so strong, so unique."
"It's a scene I did in high school. I have a strong memory of it even though it was 100 years ago."
He said he hopes the emotions of the production come through to audiences.
"With Steinbeck, it's very real humor with tragedy mixed in. It's a really wonderful play.
"Of Mice and Men" plays 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays through Sept. 9, with one matinee at 6 p.m. Sunday, at The Empty Space, 706 Oak St. Admission is $20 for reserved seating, $15 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. VIP tables for two are $60, which include reserved seating and, apropos to the show, a whiskey/bourbon flight and two slices of apple pie. Reservations can be made at esonline.org.
Drumming up support
School just started but the Bakersfield College Drumline is already in action, hoping to drum up some funds. From 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, diners at the Valley Plaza Chipotle (2701 Ming Ave., Suite 200) can chow down for the cause. If they show a flier posted in an event on the Bakersfield College Band Facebook page or just tell the cashier they're there to support the drummers, 50 percent of proceeds for that purchase will go to the group. Funds will help cover travel expenses for the drumline, which during the year competes in a variety of contests. Last year, the group competed for a national title at the Winter Guard International World Championship, which holds its finals at the University of Dayton in Ohio.