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Barlow's size right for ‘Of Mice and Men’ role

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Chris Barlow, left, plays Lennie and James Udom right is George in Hubbard Hall's production of “Of Mice and Men.” (John Sutton photo)
Chris Barlow, left, plays Lennie and James Udom right is George in Hubbard Hall's production of “Of Mice and Men.” (John Sutton photo)

Chris Barlow realizes that a career on the stage for a man his size is going to have its limitations. But he’s more than happy to do what he can.

“I play the big and gruesome character, the dim-witted one,” said Barlow, who is cast as Lennie in the Hubbard Hall production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” opening Friday night and running through May 18.

“I’m six and a half feet tall and I weigh 280 pounds. It’s either that or the Frankenstein monster. I know I get typecast. That’s just the way it is.”

While Barlow comes from a theatrical family — his parents met while doing summer stock in Stockbridge, Vt. — he was never really bitten by the acting bug until recently.

‘Of Mice and Men’

WHERE: Hubbard Hall, 25 E. Main St., Cambridge

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 18

HOW MUCH: $25-$15

MORE INFO: 677-2495, www.hubbardhall.org

“We grew up around the TV, and we’d be watching an old movie and my father would say, ‘Hey there’s John Carradine, and there’s so-and-so,’ ” said Barlow, laughing.

“My parents knew him and they knew a lot of actors. They used to baby sit Tony Perkins. So while I was growing up there was always this sense of the theater being there, but I was more interested in the Beatles and playing music myself, either the cello in the school orchestra or the guitar in a rock ’n’ roll band.”

Barlow has lived in Sandgate, Vt., for the past 12 years. Married with two children, he works in the furniture-restoration business. His theater resume is limited to Hubbard Hall, where he first performed in 2010. His credits include “Incorruptible,” “Madwoman of Chaillot” and most recently “Ondine” in May.

“Of Mice and Men,” a novel written by Steinbeck and published in 1937, tells the story of two displaced migrant workers named George Milton and Lennie Small. George is an uneducated but intelligent man who looks after Lennie, a warm-hearted giant of a man with limited mental abilities.

The story is set in California during the Great Depression, and was first produced on the stage in November of 1937. The original Broadway cast included Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie.

Hollywood made the film version in 1937 with Burgess Meredith playing George and Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie. A 1992 remake had Gary Sinise as George and John Malkovich as Lennie.

Sharing the stage with Barlow in the Hubbard Hall production is James Udom as George. Jeannine Haas is the director.

“You can save yourself a lot of work if you get the casting right, and I think we are blessed with the wonderful cast we have,” said Haas. “James did ‘King Lear’ here and he was the heart of the show, and Chris Barlow, he’s been in a few shows here over the last four years, is a great Lennie. He’s got a wonderful heart and it really seems to come through on stage.”

The Hubbard Hall production will throw a bit of a twist at its audience. Udom is black.

“It’s nontraditional casting for that role, but I think it will add another whole dimension to the performance,” said Haas. “For people who walk in knowing the show it will be something different. Perhaps they’ll listen to it in a new way, and I think Steinbeck would have liked it. He was very much interested in the class struggle and the pecking order of folks.”

Barlow is familiar with Udom’s work.

“I saw him in ‘King Lear’ and I just couldn’t believe it,” said Barlow. “I saw it twice. James has this stunning connection to the audience, and when I heard he was going to be George I thought it was a great idea.”

Udom, 24, is a Californian who recently moved to the Northeast. Haas, who lives in the Northampton, Mass., area, directed “King Lear” at Hubbard Hall, and has also acted at various other venues in the Berkshires.

 
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