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ART BEAT: Lionheart presents Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men'

John Steinbeck's acclaimed story of friendship will be presented as a theatrical event at Lionheart Theatre from Sept. 14 through 30. "Of Mice and Men" features the tale of two drifters, George and Lennie, who have delusions of living "off the fat of the land."

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. There is a group rate of $10. Complimentary dessert is served at intermission. Lionheart Theatre is located at 10 College St. in historic Norcross at the College Street Playhouse.

The play's name comes from the famous Robert Burns poem, "To a Mouse," with the pertinent lines declaring, "The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go awry." Steinbeck based the tale on his own experiences as a migrant worker in California during the '20s, although the story is set during the Great Depression.

The two main characters consist of George, an intelligent but poor man, and his friend Lennie, a "man-child" possessed of brute strength.

Director Joanie McElroy chose "Of Mice and Men" to direct because of a conviction that the classics are timeless.

"I love the classics," she said. "They are by their very nature a 'classic' because they convey a universal, timeless message that folks continue to read, relate to, and ponder its meaning as it relates to their own lives."

"Of Mice and Men" has several prominent themes: loneliness, isolation and unrealized dreams. In the play, the two drifters settle down to work in hopes of saving money for a permanent home. The simple Lennie is obsessed with anything soft and cuddly, and George promises their new home will include rabbits for Lennie. This dream is frequently revisited in the play by Lennie asking "tell me about the rabbits, George."

The story is definitely relevant today, according to McElroy.

"We continue to have those people who are disenfranchised, those pockets of people who experience loneliness and isolation even in a world of social media, where people relate to a computer or piece of technology instead of true human interaction," she said. "We may be around one another, but still feel alone."

McElroy's favorite scenes are the first and last ones, both set beside a river.

"They show the full gamut of Lennie and George's relationship," McElroy said. "It begins and ends in the same place. At the beginning they are full of hope and dreams, but at the end, the dream dies. It's that 'full circle' type of tool Steinbeck uses, and he uses it powerfully."

McElroy also gives credit to Steinbeck for his characterizations.

"He etches out characters so well. He draws the stories out of these people and pulls you in," she said. "He finds that common piece of humanity that we can all relate to -- in this case a need for companionship."

For more information about the play and Lionheart Theatre, visit www.lionhearttheatre.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.