A Classic Masterpeice

TheatreWorks presents………………..
By John Steinbeck
Directed by Robert Kelley
Starring Jos Viramontes and AJ Meijer
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.

One of the highlights of 2010 Bay Area theatre is TheatreWorks current production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. It is based on Steinbeck’s novel written in 1937 and is as meaningful today as it was when it was first published. “Of Mice and Men endures because it is many things: a hymn to friendship and brotherhood, an indictment of prejudice, an ode to the dispossessed, a protest against poverty, a cry for help for the developmentally disabled, and a defense of dreams,” says director Robert Kelley. “It is a vision of life at the bottom of a society preoccupied with rising to the top, a tragedy whose fatal flaw is not found in an individual but in a culture too unforgiving to care for its own.“

The story was originally written so it could be performed as a play. And indeed it was first produced, that same year, from a script taken almost verbatim from the novel. George S. Kaufman was the director, and it opened in San Francisco before moving on to Broadway, where it won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best American play. This year is the 75th anniversary of the play as well as the book.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two Chicano migrant workers, George and his companion Lennie. Lennie is big, strong and not very bright. Yet, he is a gentle soul who loves to pet soft things, mice, puppies, velvet and women’s hair. He doesn’t know his own strength, and has trouble controlling his actions or foreseeing their consequences. It is this very love of softness that has gotten the two men in trouble over and over again as they travel from farm to farm to help harvest crops. As the play opens, Lennie has accidentally killed a mouse he kept in his pocket to stroke; later he accidentally kills a puppy.

George complains that Lennie is always getting them both in trouble. Still, George is devoted to Lennie and feels it his duty to protect him. His dream is to become independent and for the two of them to have their own place where they can realize the fruit of their labor. He fuels this vision both for himself and Lennie by making it into a bedtime story for Lennie. He paints a verbal picture for them both of that wonderful day when they can buy a small farm with alfalfa, a cow and rabbits for Lennie to pet instead of breaking their backs working for someone else and never having enough money to rest.

Of Mice and Men is a tragedy in the strict definition – the protagonist is inevitably destroyed, by a flaw in himself. Lennie is brought down by his weakness of mind; George by his devotion to Lennie. One of the themes of the play is the heartbreak of shattered dreams. In fact, the title, taken from Robert Burns’ line “The best-laid plans of mice and men/Gang aft aglae.” is the essence of the plot. The play is based on Steinbeck’s own experience. “I was a bindlestiff myself for quite a spell,” said Steinbeck in 1937. “I worked in the same country that the story is laid in.”

The play is tightly structured and beautifully balanced. The dialogue is a prose poem, strong, simple and almost musical. Robert Kelley’s direction highlights Steinbeck’s strong, symbolic text with spare, controlled direction – just the approach needed to protect this delicate work from becoming maudlin or melodramatic. Jos Viramontes and AJ Meijer do well in the key roles of George and Lennie. Meijer told an interviewer “Lennie is like a big kid. Other people have played him like a big lug, but I’m a big child. I like laughing and am playful, and that’s the direction I wanted to go in." Gary Martinez and Charles Branklyn give outstanding performances as Candy, the ranch worker who lost a hand, and Crooks, the black stable hand. Chad Deverman is a convincing Slim, and there’s an ancient hound dog that will break your heart. Tom Langguth’s scenery works very well, as does Allison Connor’s costumes. They are true to the time and enhance the action. All these elements combine to create a magnificently memorable evening of theatre. “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit,” said Steinbeck in 1962 when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. “-for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and emulation. “

Do not miss this moving production…it is unforgettable.
The heroic cannot be common, nor the common heroic.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of Mice and Men plays at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 650 Castro Street, Mountain View, until April 29. Performances are at 7:30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8:00 Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:00 on Sunday, and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00. For tickets call 650-463-1960, or go to www.theatreworks.org.