Of Mice and Men opened November 23, 1937, at the Music Box Theater, with Broderick Crawford as the gentle giant Lennie and Wallace Ford as his friend and protector George. Also in the cast were Will Geer as Slim and Leigh Whipper, the first African American member of Actors’ Equity, as Crooks. Of Mice and Men, for which Steinbeck drew on his own experiences among the migrant farmworkers of California, had a rather unusual genesis. Steinbeck simultaneously wrote the play and the novella, and they were produced and released at about the same time. (The play’s original director, George S. Kaufman, reportedly contributed significantly to the script’s composition.)
The novella Of Mice and Men has become a perennial text in high school classrooms, and the play has had a long life in the theater and on film. It was revived on Broadway in 1974, with Kevin Conway and James Earl Jones as George and Lennie, and again just this past year, with James Franco and Chris O’Dowd. It was filmed in 1939, with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr., and in 1992 with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich, Sinise also directing. It has twice been adapted for television, in 1968, with George Segal and Nicol Williamson, and in 1981, with Robert Blake and Randy Quaid.
Beyond Of Mice and Men and The Moon Is Down, Steinbeck had mixed experiences in the theater. His 1938 play Tortilla Flat ran a year, but another original play, Burning Bright, ran only a week in 1950. In 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted his novel Sweet Thursday into the musical Pipe Dream, which ran seven months but was the least successful of the nine R&H musicals. Here’s Where I Belong, a musical version of Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, ran one performance in 1968.
In our production, George and Lennie are played by Dave Krostal and newcomer Rick Clemmons, respectively. The two begin the show with an extended dialogue and are the focus of the action for the majority of the play.
The rest of the cast includes Joe Culpepper as the weathered hired hand Candy, newcomer George Freeman as the Boss, Spencer Powell as the pugnacious son-of-the-boss and son-of-a-something-else, Curley, and newcomer Nicole Aune as Curley’s vexing wife, known in the play as “Curley’s wife.” Newcomer Todd Mangruem portrays the stable man Crooks. Joe Strupek, Paul Vellella and Thom Rakestraw play the hired hands Carlson, Slim and Whit. Candy’s dog is played by Jenna, who is a member of Judy Stroh’s household.
Each member of the cast has wonderful stage presence and each has developed quite believable characterizations. It was a joy to watch them at the January 6 rehearsal. Clemmons is especially convincing as the slow-witted and lovable Lennie.
The opening scene is nearly bare stage (just props and a couple mini-platforms) depicting an outdoor location staged in front of the scrim. Chris Terven has designed and built a well-structured bunk house (I counted 4 twin-bunks) which is set upstage from the mid-stage curtain. For later scenes, the mid-stage curtain is closed and platforms are rolled on to serve as Crooks’ stable and the barn.
Directing the drama is Penny Wilson. Chris Terven is producer in addition to set designer and master builder. Alan Wilson is doing the costume design, Eli Mundy is doing sound and Dan Virtue is doing the lighting design. Dorothy Mundy is in charge of properties and Judy Stroh is stage manager. The Ichniowski clan (Ted, Joan and Becky) will serve as house managers.
Of Mice and Men contains some intense situations, frequent profanities, racial epithets and other harsh language. It is compelling drama, but is not intended for the very young or very sensitive. For the rest of us, it’s an American classic that is a “must see.”
The Pay-What-You-Can Preview Performance is Thursday, January 15. Regular performances are January 16-18 and 22-25. (Remember, non-musicals are two weekends only!)
by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder