"A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green." So opens John Steinbeck's novella "Of Mice and Men."
Eventually two men arrive on the scene amongst the sycamore leaves and approach a green pool.
George (Richard Boynton) and Lennie (Avondina Wills) have left trouble behind them in their last town and come to the valley, migrant workers, to try again.
Lennie is a big man in stature, but with the mind of a child, and depends on his friend for most everything. The two share a dream of one day owning their own piece of land together. It's a long shot, but tragic events at their new place of employment come to make it, finally, impossible.
"It's a play about people trying to follow their dreams," said Elsa Con, director for Magic Circle Theatre's production of the story. "It's a play about the depths to which friendship will go."
Opening Magic Circle Theatre's 2013 season, "Of Mice and Men" opens Friday in Carmel Valley.
The novel was published in 1937 and adapted for the stage that same year; it is considered for many a classic in American literature.
Many a theme has been laid upon the story, its characters recognized as symbolic of a whole library of human emotions. In the end, however, a cast must create real people by tapping into their own real experiences.
Wills, involved with community theater since the early '90s, spends his days as a paratransit driver shuttling developmentally disabled passengers.
Mustn't that certainly bleed into his work in the character of Lennie?
"Certain aspects of it I do draw from," he said. His clients remind him daily what it looks like to live with honesty and sincerity always. "I get to be that sincere," said the actor, who revels in tapping into the kid inside.
Someone might bring up that they miss their deceased mom, for example (a thought many of us wouldn't speak out loud in the first place), and then simply begin talking to her. "You get to feel that with them. That's a great gift."
"They're just beautiful people. They keep you grounded," Wills said. "It's one of the best jobs I've ever had. I love it."
Lennie's child-like mind and behavior also bring a kind of levity to this difficult tale. The character is based on a real person Steinbeck knew.
As for Con, who she is outside the theater greatly influences her work there as well. Retired from a 20-plus-year career as a clinical psychologist, she know a lot about people's dynamics.
"It really affects my directing," said Con, who has not had formal training in the art but uses this alternative training as her guide in dramatic interpretation.
"The actors seem to like it, and they seem to go to deeper levels."
The cast also includes Brandon Burns, Ron Cacas, Bob Colter, David Norum, James Porter, Garland Thompson, Taylor Thorngate and Alan Zeppa.
Con has done her best to set the play in the '30s, in a visually authentic way. There are details of the story that also belie its time period — for one thing, try leaving a town and not being found today.
But, of course, the universals are undeniable.
There is the plight of migrant farmworkers, which is hardly a thing of the past.
"For me, the strongest thing of all of it," said Wills, "is that dream." And the stumbling we do in our attempts to reach it. "A lot of characters in this play, they make the same mistakes."
"Steinbeck has such a deep understanding of the human soul," Con said, and contributes that understanding to his characters. "It's a joyous thing as a theatergoer," she said. "This (play) is like a very rich meal."
Con believes Magic Circle's state-of-the-art 60-seat theater is perfect for "Of Mice and Men." She said that over the times she has seen the show, she has often wished for the intimacy of a smaller theatre.
"The nuances between Lennie and George are so subtle and so beautiful," noted the director.
"I hope that they have a really good ride of emotion," Wills said of his future audiences.
Just like the events in "Of Mice and Men," it seems inevitable.
Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at montereybound@yahoo. GO!
What: Magic Circle Theatre presents John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"
Where: 8 El Caminito, Carmel Valley Village
When: Opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1; continues at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m Sundays through March 31
Tickets: $25 general; senior and student discount on Sundays only, $22, available by calling 659-7500 or at magiccircletheatre.net