David Gross has never acted before but he knew the part of the Boss was right for him.
“I’ve lived it,” he said of living the ranch life, and it’s what drew the longtime U.S. Forest Service employee to the role of the hard-bitten ranch boss.
“I’ve lived on two wheat and cattle ranches in Wasco County all my adult life, 47 years, and on one of them for 38 years,” said Gross, a Vietnam veteran who has worked for the Mt. Hood and Barlow ranger districts for the past 45 years, mostly in outreach, grant writing, education and volunteer coordination.
Gross has commuted from his home in Dufur in recent weeks for not only his job with the USFS but also for rehearsals for “Of Mice and Men.” Gross, who looks 10 years younger than his 68 years, studied forestry at the University of Arizona. He wears a variety of hats for USFS, including “boss” of two Youth Conservation Corps crews, based in Dufur and Parkdale.
He is caretaker for the ranch he lives on, and while it has been inactive for the last 15 years it still needs work, including fence repairs.
“When it was active I worked it weekends, feeding cattle, and mending fences. I worked calves, fixing fences, moving irrigation pipes, bucked more hay than you can imagine, fed 70 cows on freezing winter mornings. I’ve lived it.” He also repairs fences and does other volunteer work for Nature Conservancy preserves.
“It’s a part of who I am; it’s my life,” he said.
“I just feel I was meant to be in this play, and that’s how I developed the character.”
Putting experience to work in a dramatic play was a natural way for Gross to get involved in theater, something he thought of since seeing a readers’ theater at CAST a few years back, of “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,” with its theme of Iraq war veterans returning to the U.S.
“It was just a desire to step out of my comfort zone a little and get into a new community and form some new friends or relationships and experience a different side of the world,” Gross said of trying out for the play, which is directed by Lynda Dallman.
He said cast member Blaire Carroll gave him good advice.
“She told me, ‘Steinbeck wrote the words, but you have to develop the character.’ So I stated thinking about my character and knowing what I know about that era,” of the 1930s.
“I live my life in a very rural agricultural way anyway,” he said. “I relate to these people, having worked on ranches and my house is furnished in what you might call rural primitive.”
Everything on stage in “Of Mice And Men,” with a few exceptions, came from Gross’s house, including many of the costumes.
“We need a washtub and Lynda asked for one and I said, ‘I’ve got three of those at home; I’ll bring one in.’”