I have been most blessed to see an outstanding performance from James Franco and Chris O’Dowd acting in the stage production of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. An american classic, Of Mice and Men is one of the most read books in schools across the country despite appearing on the American Library Association’s list of Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century
Of Mice and Men tells the story of George (James Franco) and Lennie (Chris O’Dowd), an unlikely pair of friends drifting from job to job across the farms and fields of California, holding fast to their dream of one day having an acre of land they can call their own.
The creative team for Of Mice and Men includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Todd Rosenthal, costume design by the international, Emmy Award-winning designer of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, Suttirat Larlarb, lighting design by 2014 Tony Award nominee Japhy Weideman, sound design by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen, original music by David Singer, fight direction by Thomas Schall, hair & wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and casting by Calleri Casting.
What I took from the show.
The racism in 1930’s America
Explicit and very harsh, I cringed at the word “nigger” being spoken, not once but a staggering 9 times during a small dialogue.
Crooks’ situation powerfully reflects the racial discrimination in 1930s America. The other ranch workers evidently have little respect for Crooks. We can see this through the nickname given to him, ‘Crooks’ is a derogatory term referring to Crooks’ crooked back. Crooks wasn’t wasn’t allowed to play cards with the other ranch workers, or even enter their bunker because of his skin colour and the other ranch workers say that Crooks stinks. The fact that Crooks was also disabled as well as being black, classed him as the lowest in the hierarchical system, resulting in him being paid less than others.
Curley’s wife threatened to have Crooks lynched because he wasn’t being polite to he when he ordered her to leave his room. She made him scared and obedient because she fiercely said “you know what I could do” , making fear for his life. This made Crooks reply to Curley’s wife as if she was a higher status than him and all he replies is “yes ma’am”.
“Cause I’m black, they play cards in there but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well I tell you, all of you stink to me’
Old and sick things do not have a place in a modern world
Why oh why did they have to kill the dog? He was old, he smelled, it’s true, but it did no harm to anyone and he was the old man’s consolation.
Well, I can’t stand him in here,” said Carlson. “That stink hangs around even after he’s gone.” He walked over with his heavy-legged stride and looked down at the dog. “Got no teeth,” he said. “He’s all stiff with rheumatism. He ain’t no good to you, Candy. An’ he ain’t no good to himself. Why’n’t you shoot him, Candy?”
The old man squirmed uncomfortably. “Well—hell! I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him.” He said proudly, “You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but he was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen.”
Carlson has just lost a game of horse shoes and is irritable. His bad mood is exacerbated by the bad smell of the dog.
He rationalizes his desire to shoot the animal by telling Candy that it no longer serves it purpose, and can be replaced by one of the younger dogs. This moment is sadly reminiscent of the way that individual’s treated Lenny. Lenny was prized for his strength and ability to work, but like the dog unappreciated as a being beyond fulfilling this work purpose.
It’s a man’s world
Even if Curley’s wife has been vilified and deemed as the cause of all the bad things that followed, she wasn’t all bad. She was lonely with Curley gone at the farm all day long. She was a party girl and she had no-one to talk to. Buried alive in a house, left to cook or mend clothes, she saw her potential dwindling.
“what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs—a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep—an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else”
At every opportunity, she talks about her lost opportunities. She speaks of a travelling actor who told her she could join their show, without gathering that this is a pretty standard pick-up line. Same with the offer to go to Hollywood: Curley’s wife convinces herself that her mother stole the letter, rather than realize that the guys weren’t interested in her talent.
George and Candy call her by other names such as “jailbait” or “tart.” She wears too much makeup and dresses like a “whore” with red fingernails and red shoes with ostrich feathers. Lennie is fascinated by her and cannot take his eyes off her. He keeps repeating “she’s purty.” George, realizing Lennie’s fascination, warns him to stay away from her.
Her “best laid plans” involved a stint in the movies with all the benefits, money, and pleasure that would provide. Her beauty is such that perhaps that dream might have come true. Her dreams make her more human and vulnerable. Steinbeck reiterates this impression by portraying her innocence in death:
Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.
The dream house
“O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—”
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that George.”
“Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it.”
“No…you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on…George. How I get to tend the rabbits.”
There is nothing worse than hope. Especially when it gives you purpose in life and a shine in the eye. Especially when it’s lost like a wave in the sea, never to return. I cried like a babe when the ending came and the hope left.
Lenny and George had such a beautiful dream, such a nice idea of the future. And it will never be.
The soft touch of the feeble-minded
There is nothing more dangerous than a two year-old. They have no sense of what’s right and wrong yet. And Lenny is just like a two year old but even more dangerous as he’s very strong. He can’t remember things very well and George has taken it upon himself to take care of him after his aunt passed away. Were they really cousins?
“‘Funny how you an’ him string along together.'”
George confides that he and Lennie are not, in fact, cousins, but we learn that they have known each other since grammar school. They are linked together by a shared past, by a dream of the future, and by current circumstances. All of this implies a substratum of mutual affection.
The characteristics of mice are simple and feebleminded. A mouse is helpless, timid and oblivious. Few characters in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men possess such characteristics, except Lennie.
Lennie relies on others to think for him. He won’t act or react unless he’s told to. When he’s getting punched in the face by Curley, Lennie doesn’t even flinch until George tells him to:
“Get ‘im Lennie!” Lennie took his hands away from his face and looked about for George, and Curley slashed at his eyes. The big face was covered with blood. George yelled again, “I said get him.” Curley’s fist was swinging when Lennie reached for it. The next minute, Curley was flopping like a fish.
Since he relies on George to do most of the talking for him, Lennie tends to get nervous when he’s alone with others. When Curley asks him when he and George came in, Lennie freezes up, scared that whatever he says will get him into trouble, “His glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Lennie squirmed under the look and shifted his feet nervously.”
Mice are shy creatures who try to, at all costs, avoid trouble. Lennie is scared to talk to others because he’s scared he’ll get himself into trouble.
Lennie is oblivious to what’s going on around him, it’s as if he’s in his own little world. As Curley is giving everyone a lecture because he thought Slim was with his wife, Lennie is just laying down on a bed laughing to himself:
His eyes slipped on past and lighted on Lennie, and Lennie was still smiling with delight at the memory of the ranch. Curley stepped over to Lennie like a terrier. “What the hell you laughin’ at?” Lennie looked blankly at him, “Huh?”
Lennie is so clueless of what’s going on, it ends up getting him into trouble. Like a mouse and a mouse trap, the mouse notices only the cheese, but he doesn’t notice the trap.
I felt like crying whenever he would get in trouble and the end simply broke the dam.
If you haven’t seen it, please do, it’s a wonderful performance by all actors.