With “Of Mice and Men,” John Steinbeck invented a new form of writing, the “play-novelette,” a novel that could be played from its lines or a play that could be read as a novel. It was first produced on Broadway in 1937, revived on Broadway in 1974 and again in Chicago in 1980. There was a movie in 1939, another in 1992, and two television productions, in 1968 and 1981, as well as a Turkish television production, “Fareler ve insanlar” in 1975.
This timeless classic story of solitude, longing and deep friendship has struck a chord with people around the world and rings true as much today as it did 70 years ago.
The Sacramento Theater Company production, directed by Michael Stevenson, remains faithful to Steinbeck’s original script – and the production is stunning.
The story centers around George and Lenny, farm workers who travel from job to job, trying to get together enough money to buy their own place and “live off the fat of the land.” George is the leader of the two, because he’s the one with the brains.
The classic description of Lenny is of a physically large, powerful man whose mind is slow and childlike. It is the way I have always seen the part played. Stevenson’s decision to make Lenny not only slow, but also obviously retarded was unusual.
That said, however, Matt K. Miller (George) and Jason Kuykendall (Lenny) turn in flawless performances. I can only assume that Kuykendall has spent a lot of time observing retarded people. Not only his speech pattern, but his body language, hand and facial movements were so convincing the “actor” got lost in the “character.” Lenny is a big-hearted man who loves to stroke soft things, but has no concept of his physical strength and can easily kill small, weak things without meaning to.
Miller’s George is a quick-tempered bulldog of a man who is both frustrated with Lenny, and at the same time feeling a brotherly love for him and a need to protect his friend at all costs, even when the “cost” is so very high.
Much of the play revolves around conversations between Lenny and George, George’s tirades at Lenny for his inability to remember simple commands, contrasted with the story that Lenny always wants George to tell him, about the place they will own, what they will grow and especially the rabbits that Lenny so passionately wants to raise and care for.
The supporting cast of this production is on a par with Miller and Kuykendall, all turning in outstanding performances.
Brett Williams is Slim, the “mule driver,” and perhaps unofficial leader of the ranchands. He’s a likeable guy and becomes a friend to George.
David Silberman gives heart and soul to Candy, who lost his hand in a farming accident and sees the writing on the wall for his future on the ranch. Candy’s one love is his old dog, literally on his last legs.
Aaron Wilton is Curley, the son of the Boss (Floyd Harden), a jealous man with a beautiful new bride, a chip on his shoulder and a hair trigger temper.
Vivian Kerr is Curley’s wife (never named), who is already bored with her new husband and bored with life on the ranch where she longs for someone to talk to. The ranch hands regard her as a slut, but Kerr gives her a sympathetic innocence.
Eddie Jackson is Crooks, the Negro blacksmith, who must sleep in separate quarters because the races don’t mix. He’s bitter and sardonic and sees George and Lenny’s plan to own their own place for what it is: an impossible dream.
The last two farmhands are David Campfield as Whit and David Pierini as Carlson, an angry, self-indulgent man without a soul.
Arthur Rotch is scenic and lighting designer for this production, effectively creating the barren landscape of the Salinas Valley and the rustic out-buildings of a run-down farmhouse. Though not, strictly speaking, a part of the production itself, the silhouettes created by the farm structures against the backdrop during set changes are striking in and of themselves.
Michael Stevenson has treated this Steinbeck classic with reverence and has directed a production which is exceptional. Miller and Kuykendall have created characters who will not soon be forgotten. The production is top notch all the way.