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New Director Shares Importance Of Keeping ‘The Language’ In Play 

 “Of Mice and Men,” a play by John Steinbeck, contains strong adult language and racial slurs.

Some community theater play directors might ask permission from a playwright to cut or change the wording, but not James H. Williams.

His intent when he directs a play is to perform the play as-is.

While Basile Westfield Playhouse, where the play opened Thursday night, doesn’t condone the use of said language, Williams said, “I opted to present the show the way that the author wrote it many years ago.”

Want To Go?

What: Main Street Productions presents “Of Mice and Men.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 20.

Where: Basile Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St., Westfield.

How much: $17, adult; $15, ages 62 and older and students with ID, free for active military and veterans with ID. Reservations: www.westfieldplayhouse.org or call 317-402-3341.

He said, “While the hurtful language is there, we feel that there’s so much more to the story and not upon what Steinbeck wrote. The lesson of the story rings true today. It is OK to dream. It is OK to have compassion for one another. It is OK to love one another. And finally, it is OK to have hope when all hope is lost.”

“Of Mice and Men” is Williams’ first show to direct at Basile Westfield Playhouse. The drama opened Thursday and continues for a total of eight performances, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 20, at the Playhouse in downtown Westfield.

Williams fell in love with the story “Of Mice and Men” 35 years ago in high school English class, growing up in Muncie.

It’s a story “of love, hope, compassion and dreams,” the 52-year-old Fishers resident said. “Of Mice and Men” is a tragic story of two great friends who struggle to live the American dream. “Though a lot of things have changed over the years, the story remains the same of how we need to be today,” he said.

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck is regularly on the banned books list put out by the American Library Association. It’s been banned because of vulgarity, racism and its treatment of women.

Williams said while other community theaters in the area aren’t willing to take on sensitive topics, language and cutting-edge shows, such as this story, “Westfield is welcome to it, as long as it’s done in good taste.”

He said, “Knowing this made it easier” when he went there after submitting the play several months ago for consideration. “I wish more theaters would take on the classics like this and not shy away from them and take the risk. With Westfield being this way, it has made my first experience an amazing one, one I hope to repeat in the near future.”

Whenever he chooses a play to direct, he reads several scripts before he makes a selection. “When it comes to choosing an adult show, I look for something where we can take risks by coming out of our comfort levels. I have found that I can enjoy directing dramas; they’re more of a challenge. I don’t like to back down from a challenge. It really makes my creative juices flow.”

While he’s directed shows with sensitive subjects, including the rated PG-13 “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at The Belfry Theatre in Noblesville, he’s also gone to the other extreme, directing kids shows, which he loves. He came on as assistant director to Noblesville’s Connie Murello-Todd at The Belfry for the theater’s Apprentice Players youth musical, “Cinderella,” and assistant directed every summer with Murello-Todd until her passing in 2018, when he took over the youth productions. This summer, he’ll direct Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” “I do enjoy directing the youth productions. It’s different. The youth are eager to learn and are easier to mold than some adults; they don’t have a lot of preconceived notions. This makes it fun for me; it helps keep me younger.” Working with the youth also allows me to use the shows I direct as a teaching experience.”

He said the greatest challenge while directing “Of Mice and Men” was dealing with COVID, having both an actor and set builder out sick for a short stint. “It did slow us down a bit,” he said. “Once things started falling back into place, the show started coming back together rapidly.”

Rehearsals this week have gone well for the cast and crew members who mostly hail from in and around Hamilton County. “The cast took the bull by the horns from Day One by developing their characters, memorizing their lines and blocking, a few being harder on themselves very early on than what I would have expected at that point,” he said. “The last two weeks have been amazing once they’ve begun to come off book, their characters really began showing more and more.”

He said, “Once things started falling back into place, the show started coming back together rapidly.

MEET THE CAST:

George Milton, Brian Coon of Westfield; Lennie Small, Joe Wagner of Fishers; Candy, Chris Otterman of Noblesville; Curley, Jake Hobbs of Indianapolis; Curley’s Wife, Audrey Duprey of Lawrence; Slim, Robert Webster Jr. of Indianapolis; Carlson, Logan Browning of Noblesville; Crooks, Austin Hookfin of Indianapolis; Boss, A. Mikel Allan of Carmel; Whit, Nathaniel Taff of Noblesville; and Candy’s Dog, Meeko.

MEET THE PRODUCTION CREW:

Producer, Ka’Lena Cuevas of Fishers; director, James H. Williams of Fishers; assistant directors, Fran Knapp of Noblesville and Tonya Rave of Indianapolis; stage manager, Tonya Rave; light design, Brian Coon of Westfield; light operator, Andrew Young of Fishers; sound design and operator, Brandon Schultz of Carmel; scenic design, Ian Marshall-Fisher of Indianapolis; scenic construction, Adam Davis of Elwood, Ian Marshall-Fisher, Robert Rave of Indianapolis, Quinten Hobbs of Carmel and Heidi Moranski of Fishers; costume design, Anthony James Sirk of Lafayette; props design, Heidi Moranski of Fishers; hair/makeup, Dorinda Pena of Indianapolis; staging mistress, Maureen Akins of Zionsville; and crew, Christine Earley of Noblesville.

Basile Westfield Playhouse has a much larger stage (width and height) of what Williams accustomed. Knowing he had more space to work with, set designer Ian Marshall-Fisher was able to design a beautiful, working two-story set. “We’re literally using the whole space like it was intended to be used.” He said being a period piece, props have been a bit of a challenge. Newcomer to props design and who is also doing, Heidi Moranski has done a great job rising to the occasion. While she has had some challenges along the way, Belfry veteran Susie Walden has stepped in to mentor here.

And while last week’s snowstorm didn’t allow for rehearsal in person, they still rehearsed. Two days, they rehearsed using Zoom video-conferencing, running just the lines. “By doing the lines without the blocking, it forced the actors to really focus on what they were saying,” he said.

Williams, who was born in Bluffton, raised in Muncie, graduated from Muncie Central High School in 1988, served in the U.S. Army, attended Ball State University and who is now currently a senior at IUPUI majoring in General Studies with a certificate in Organizational Leadership Science and expected to graduate in 2024, is also an Eagle Scout, an assistant Scoutmaster, past master of Keystone Masonic Lodge No. 251 and current member of Carmel Lodge No. 421. By day, Williams is a service sales representative for Cintas First Aid & Safety.

Williams has been active in community theater for nearly 35 years.

“It’s in my blood, I guess,” he said. “Whether I’m on stage as an actor or helping create the magic, it’s an out for me. God has given me so many talents; why not share my passion with those who come to be entertained.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.