Of Mice and Men is a tragedy that is familiar to most people. It is the story of two migrant farm hands, trying to make ends meet during the Great Depression in California. The story is tragic in that we see a society presented which has no place for its most vulnerable members – those living with disabilities. It is also tragic because it presents us with a dream – the dream the characters have of a better life. We know right from the beginning that this dream will never be realized because of the condition of the society in which the characters live. There is seemingly no way out for George and Lenny because there is no social security blanket to help them.
Cape Breton in 2009 is, in many ways, a completely different time and place. But there is one thing that is the same. People here have to travel for work. Young folks leave in droves for Fort McMurray chasing after the dream of prosperity. Often, they leave family and friends behind to earn large amounts of money in the “oil patch”, but the dream isn’t fully realized because they aren’t at home.
Now Nothing is a new play by Glace Bay playwright and director Michael McPhee. The play deals with this subject matter and is, in a sense, Cape Breton’s modern day version of that great Steinbeck classic. I asked McPhee why he wrote the play.
“I have no idea why I wrote this play,” McPhee says. “But I have no idea why I wouldn’t either. But if I had to explain, I guess I see a culture, not specific to Cape Breton by any means, but a larger cultural shift where we can’t accept the broken-ness, the disparities, the yearning for status, we can’t accept the lacking, any lacking…we can’t accept it…any of it. Culturally, we don’t have the coping skills and this anxiety makes our own histories become so attenuated, we become cut off from so much…cut off from others’ starvation, from others’ sickness, from our own cleft personalities…and we’re given a kind of first aid to all of it by our Oil Patch trucks, and our Dollaramas…consumers consuming because that makes it all better. The play is about a family desperate for answers to all of that, they’re desperate for something in their life that will make sense of their misfortune, and something more, the fulfillment of a promise that had been made for a better life, a life we’re told, that will offer us a kind of peace, a peace that having things will bring, a peace that will heal wounds that can’t be healed. Snake oil.”
The play was staged last June at the Upstairs and was greatly received. The acting was fabulous and the tragic story was perfect for Cape Breton in 2009. The Cape Breton Stage Company will remount the play at the Civic Centre Round Room on December 3, 4 and 5 at 8 pm. Following the play, there will be dessert and tea/coffee provided by Flavor and included in the ticket price of $15 for adults, $10 for students. There will also be an opportunity to discuss the important subject matter of the play with the writer, director and actors. It’s an important piece of theatre, akin to Of Mice and Men, and you don’t want to miss it.
For more information about the Cape Breton Stage Company visit www.capestage.ca.