Of Mice and Men - Play
Well, this is it, folks. This is my first review of a stage production. Not from reading it in book form, but from seeing it unfold before my eyes. I’ll do the best I can with my thoughts on the play and what I remember from it, but here goes.
Now, the play I’ll be discussing about here is none other than John Steinbeck‘s classic story of economic survival in the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men.
I think it’s a safe bet to say that most of you know the story by now. Written in around the same time and by the same author as the original book before it, it focused on two men: a headstrong wise guy named George, and a timid yet mentally challenged man named Lenny, who both have roamed the streets and plains of northern California after going broke, and thus had to look for a job to keep themselves financially stable. In doing so, they expressed their innermost hopes that once they had enough money, they could buy themselves a farm with, to Lenny’s liking, a garden and a rabbit pen. Lenny, childlike as he was, had a habit of petting things and animals that were soft and cuddly, especially rabbits. However, he also had another unique trait about him that I’ll save for later in this review. George, Lenny’s friend, felt like a no-nonsense guy who felt just as sympathetic for having the heavy burden not only of keeping his spirits high in the face of economic collapse, but also in bearing the responsibility of looking after Lenny and keeping him out of harm’s way.
Eventually, good luck did come their way after they landed a job with who they called The Boss by helping out in the fields and gardens at his farmland. While there, the two men went on some quirky and fateful adventures with a whole slew of characters, including Slim, Candy, Crooks, Carlson, and finally, Curly and his wife.
They each established a part of life during the Great Depression and/or in the farms. Crooks personified the hardships of servitude that African-Americans had to endure throughout the early 20th century, Candy was the sympathetic farmer whose brief but tough journeys in the story pulled at our heartstrings, and both Curly and his wife expressed interesting personalities of their own. Curly was the brutish husband who wouldn’t have taken no for an answer, even if it ultimately resorted to fighting, and his wife expressed a deep desire to leave behind such an otherwise patriarchal community as the one she was in and go somewhere where she would at least have felt respected, and in her case, it was Hollywood.
This led to where things got heated between the characters. When they first got to the farm, George warned Lenny not to make any remark when he’s around Curly on account of his threatening nature. George even asked Lenny not to do anything stupid or say anything to anyone, least of all to Curly’s wife. When Lenny chuckled in Curly‘s presence by accident, Curly immediately put up a fight against him until Lenny established on him what else he was known for: his exceptional hidden strength. Lenny did so by holding Curly down until he crushed his fists into a bloody pulp, all with his bare hands.
This put Lenny and George in hot water the first time, but when Lenny’s strength arose again, this time it took a more tragic turn. Lenny was alone in the barn with Curly’s wife and as they discussed about their future desires, she learned about Lenny’s habit of petting things and allowed him to pet her hair. As Lenny petted her, however, he reacted defensively when she started screaming, and he accidentally broke her neck, killing her. This was a fatal flaw for Lenny; because he had a habit of petting things that he considered to be nice, soft, and pretty, his strength would have unwittingly been too much for the critters being petted and killed them under his fingers.
When the rest of the farm men, especially Curly, heard about his wife’s death, they all banded together to hunt down Lenny, with George in tow, too, but he had different ideas in mind for Lenny that would’ve resulted in the ultimate test in his friendship with Lenny.
Much like such classics as The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, I remember reading the original book back in early high school English, so I already knew the story as I was getting set to see the play. But while I remembered a couple things from the story after reading it almost 10 years ago, like Lenny’s fight with Curly and Curly‘s wife’s death, I found out as I watched the play that Of Mice and Men felt more intense and tragic than I remembered it. Maybe it was because I caught some things here that my high school self didn’t when I read the book, but the other reason I felt this way was because of what else I liked about this production. Now, before I launch into that, I’m referring to the production of the play that premiered at the Sherbino Theater in Ridgway, Colorado.
The acting from the local folk, the sets, and the sound mixing were all terrific, and even as they shifted in between scenes, they added a sense of believability to the story to the point where we felt like we were standing right there with the characters in the Great Depression as they did their own thing.
But for me, the real highlights of this presentation were from the performances of Edward Cating as Lenny and Willie Richardson as Candy. No joke; they hit their roles out of the ballpark. Cating really got deep into character as Lenny, and he, along with Richardson as Candy, added an emotional anchor that in result added to the sympathy and overall tragedy of the tale. In fact, when they got to the part where Candy and Carlson debated over putting down Candy’s dog – who, by the way, was played by a pet dog whose owners were in the audience at the time I watched it – Richardson expressed such emotional turmoil through Candy over letting his character’s dog being put down, that I heard the owners actually weeping over the idea that the dog – the actor, not the character – might actually be put down in the process. The performances were that good. And convincing.
Whether as a novel, a play, or even as a movie, Of Mice and Men is a thoughtful tragedy that served as a testament of the after effects of the Depression, the qualities that make us human, and how far some people will go to maintain their dignity in such desperate times. It is a classic in many forms, and the play, no matter what scale it’s presented in, is no exception.