It’s a staple of high school literature classes all over America, and for good reason. Even for those who have read the American classic “Of Mice and Men,” the opportunity to see the theatrical interpretation at the Walnut Street Theatre is not to be missed. Adapted for the stage by its acclaimed author John Steinbeck himself, “Of Mice and Men” takes on new dimensions as it comes to the theater.
Though not a glamorous or even fast-paced play, it tells the story of the American Dream for the struggling and the disadvantaged with a skillful grace that reaches even the most dispassionate individuals.
As many Temple students remember, “Of Mice and Men” is the story of George and Lennie, two migrant workers traveling up and down the West Coast searching for work “bucking wheat,” and taking on any other farm job they can find. Simple-minded and innocent, Lennie often finds himself in situations over his head, and George is often heard recounting the many jobs Lennie has lost for the pair.
Despite his seeming impatience with his companion, George refuses to abandon Lennie
and dreams of the day they will have the money for a place to call their own. Lennie’s inability to recognize his own physical strength leads to a devastating turn of events that speak to the harsh realities of the lives of migrant workers during the Great Depression. Here, as in his other highly-revered work, “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck expertly explores the plight of the working class.
Drawing on actual historical conditions and events, he easily endears his characters to his audience. Lennie’s dearest ambition is to have a hutch full of rabbits and feed them alfalfa daily, while George dreams of working a seven hour day and being able to go into town and see a baseball game every once in a while. Another worker, Candy, loves nothing more than his old terrier, and can’t smell the stench the others complain of because the dog is his constant companion Crooks, the only black man on the ranch, dreams of companionship and being allowed to live in the bunkhouse with the rest of the farmhands.
Their simple hopes are portrayed with such honesty in the intimate setting of the Walnut Street Theatre that it is impossible to avoid attachment to these characters. Though hints of the hopelessness of their situation continue to present themselves throughout the play, there is no choice but to root for the men to achieve their dream of owning a small house on a ten acre plot and living off “the fat of the land.”
The entire Philadelphia-based cast was top-notch, but deserving of the highest praise is Scott Greer in the role of Lennie. From the awkward position of his hands when he spoke, to the childlike movements he made and the simple nature of his speech, he truly embodied his character. With talent comparable to Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” and Sean Penn in “Sam I Am,” Greer gave a tasteful, striking performance.
If there were one show to see this semester, “Of Mice and Men” would be that show. It is a beautiful, tragic and timeless story brought to life with compassion and grace.
Mary C. Schell can be reached at Mary.Schell@temple.edu.