After my 14-year-old self was scarred by The Red Pony, I could never work up suitable enthusiasm for John Steinbeck. But local playwright Octavio Solis's beautifully-wrought adaption of The Pastures of Heaven has me convinced Steinbeck is as crucial to the American literary canon as everyone claims. (As is Solis to the theater, but that I already knew.)
Warm, deftly poetic, and funny even in tragedy, The Pastures of Heaven follows the lives of farmers and teachers and dreamers as they search for contentment in Steinbeck's lush Salinas Valley. It's the perfect show for Cal Shakes, with rolling hills behind the outdoor ampitheater and stars rising as the evening darkens.
Clocking in at about three hours, it's a long performance, but well worth the time - especially since the story of gold seekers and gnome hunters and ornery ghosts is so entrancing that you're sorry when it's over. Unless you've forgotten a blanket. Then you're perfectly happy to abandon the outdoors for the warmth of your heated car. (Note: Bring a blanket. And picnics are encouraged, so tote along some bread, cheese, and a bottle of wine.)