"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Theater Week: Of Mice and Men

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Dramatists Play Services, 1964. 71 pages.

I know I said in my post last week that I hadn't read Of Mice and Men. Well, I picked up a copy of the script on the trip and read it before seeing it.

Now, before I begin, I ought to confess that I have never liked John Steinbeck. I read The Pearl in seventh grade and  The Grapes of Wrath in my junior year of high school, and I did not like either of them. In fact, I strongly disliked both of them. So I wasn't hugely enthusiastic about seeing a Steinbeck play. After I read the script, however, things began to look up. I found the plot and characters to be more engaging and sympathetic than in my previous experiences with his writing. And the ending was heartbreaking. I found it interesting that the stage directions explicitly say that there's no need to be realistic with the set and some of the props (such as Candy's dog and Lennie's puppy). Nothing in the play, no bit of action or line of dialogue was unnecessary. Everything moved toward the final tragedy.

So, I was finally looking forward to seeing the play by the time we sat down. For the second evening in a row, I found myself crying at the curtain call. The play was extraordinarily moving, with absolutely fabulous acting from the entire cast. George was less angry and antagonistic toward Lennie than suggested  by the notes in the play, which made the ending even more poignant. I also appreciated the portrayal of Lennie. It would be easy to make Lennie a caricature of stupidity, but instead he was just simple and sweet-natured, with an absolute devotion to George. George and Lennie's effect on the ranch is profound, and they spread hope and make some friends, and a few enemies.  When the dangerous naivety of Curly's wife brings everything down, the tragedy seems inevitable.

The set design was fairly realistic, with a small rive cut into the stage for the opening scenes. Curly's dog never appeared on stage, which worked just fine. Not surprisingly, the stage being outdoors was absolutely perfect for the play, adding the right touch of verisimilitude. It was a beautiful ensemble cast with absolutely wonderful chemistry. I think it has even started changing mind toward Steinbeck...

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