Reviews

Of Mice and Men ****

By: T.E. McMorrow

"Of Mice and Men" is the quintessential American play, stark, yet sentimental. Based on John Steinbeck’s novella by the same name, the story is a product of The Great Depression.

Preston Truman Boyd, Joe Pallister

Published in 1937, the play was brought to the stage the same year, under the guidance of George S. Kaufman. Now being staged at Bay Street Theater this month under thier Literature Live! series, which brings adaptations of great literature to high school students, who are brought in during the week, while also being performed for the general public on weekends.

In this case, teens from schools across the East End are meeting up with not only a great novella, but also a great play.

By: T.E. McMorrow

"Of Mice and Men" is the quintessential American play, stark, yet sentimental. Based on John Steinbeck’s novella by the same name, the story is a product of The Great Depression.

Preston Truman Boyd, Joe Pallister

Published in 1937, the play was brought to the stage the same year, under the guidance of George S. Kaufman. Now being staged at Bay Street Theater this month under thier Literature Live! series, which brings adaptations of great literature to high school students, who are brought in during the week, while also being performed for the general public on weekends.

In this case, teens from schools across the East End are meeting up with not only a great novella, but also a great play.

This particular production, while not up to the last Literature Live! staging I saw, a lovely rendition of "The Diary of Anne Frank" back in 2013, accomplishes, however, a noble purpose.

The genesis of the original staging of "Of Mice and Men" is worth retelling.

Beatrice Kaufman had seen galleys of the novella in late 1936, and immediately brought the tale to George’s attention, according to the wonderful biography, "George S. Kaufman," by Malcolm Goldstein.

Steinbeck and Kaufman would nominally seem a study in contrasts. One, an urbane, sophisticated New Yorker known for his wit, the other, a salt-of-the-earth Californian who made the struggle of migrant workers America’s spiritual struggle.

Kaufman, who normally co-authored the plays he directed, insisted that Steinbeck write the piece, alone. They got together in 1937 on Kaufman’s rural retreat from the city, Barley Sheaf Farm, and quickly finished the play.

The result, after only three weeks of rehearsal, was a stunning success.

We meet, at the beginning of the play, the character Lennie, brawny but with an unformed mind, and George, the brains, and a spiritual dream-weaver. They are two migrant workers, moving from farm to farm. They are camping out by a river, before beginning work the next day, at a ranch.

The dream George is weaving is one that cuts to the core of the American soul: That, out there, someplace, there is a home for us, not just a place to sleep and eat, but, to live freely.

Their relationship is unique. They are different from the other men they work with, they tell each other, because they have each other, a relationship formed in childhood. They are different, because they have a dream.

At the beginning of the play, that dream seems far away, however, as the play develops, the dream the two men share suddenly seems close to fruition. Yet Steinbeck tells us, from the start, that the dream is doomed. The title is taken from the English translation of the Scottish poem, "To a Mouse," by Thomas Burns, and is usually written in contemporary English as "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

We learn in the first scene that the two barely escaped from a ranch in Weed. While Lenny appears asexual, he has a compulsion to stroke soft things. In Weed, one of those soft things he began stroking was a woman’s dress, which she happened to be wearing at the time. She began screaming, and Lenny and George were on the run.

When we first see him, Lenny is carrying a dead mouse. Though he protests that he did not kill it, we learn death is the inevitable consequence of Lenny stroking a small animal.

George tells Lenny, at the end of the first scene, to remember the place they are camping at that night. He is to return there if he gets into trouble.

Trouble, in this case, is in the form of a woman, whose name we never learn. Married to the impotent son of the owner of the ranch, Curley, she feels trapped, unable to pursue her own dream, that of being a movie star.

Curley, as written, though not as cast here, is a small man with a Napoleonic complex. Lenny becomes his target, to the detriment of both, pushing us down the path towards the drama’s inevitable conclusion.

Preston Truman Boyd, who plays Lenny, is a fine actor. Though younger than written, he explores the corners of Lenny’s tortured soul, finding nuances throughout.

Joe Pallister’s George could use a little more shading. I get, from the beginning, that, at times, Lenny is a burden to George, but there has to be a contrast. Where is the love? I’m sure that will come as the run continues.

What I said earlier about the casting of Curley is not meant to be taken as a slight. Jon Kovach does a fine job with the part. The same can be said of the rest of the cast. Characters created by good actors like Josh Gladstone and Sawyer Spielberg, and Chauncy Thomas is a revelation as Crooks.

Joe Minutillo has done a fine job directing, and no review of this production should omit the excellent work done by Rick Sordelet, who choreographed the fight scenes or the inventive and functional set by Gary Hygom.

Literature Live! is a vital program for our young people, and should be supported and encouraged by all theater lovers.

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