You will laugh during “Of Mice and Men.”
Just not very often. Be prepared for the widest array of emotions in director Lynda Dallman’s Plays for Non-Profits production, which winds up this weekend at Columbia Center for the Arts.
Dallman said the decision to produce the play came after a February reading of John Steinbeck’s works at the Hood River County Library. Several actors who read scenes from “Of Mice and Men” and “Grapes of Wrath” were excited about playing the roles in a full stage production. for Plays for Non-Profits.
“The actors’ enthusiasm, combined with the positive response from the library audience, convinced us that we could create something very special,” she said. (More of Dallman’s comments on the play begin on page B14. Also, see below for details on tickets and times.)
The cast features PfNP and CAST veterans Greg Gilbertson, Tom Butler, Tom Burns and Blaire Carroll, and newcomers Jake Camp, Ben Bliss, David Dye, Sebastian Mael, Tony Lathrim and David Gross.
A precarious optimism pervades John Steinbeck’s classic story. This is about men whose dreams seem to defy the logic of hope. Yet they dream on.
The eight men of this play do laugh once in a while, but like life itself they tend to laugh at the wrong times or for the wrong reasons.
They talk about important things, and sometimes about not much at all. They ramble and they repeat themselves, and at times there are long pauses between their words. The men of “Mice and Men” talk in that fractured way that people still talk.
There are few big speeches in this play.
The ranch boss tells two newcomers, “When my hands work hard they get pie and when they loaf they bounce down the road on their can.” The moment of humor carries the weight of the times with it. For these men, there is always the fear of being bounced down the road.
In Steinbeck’s story, set on a California ranch in 1937, bad things happen to good people. And just as there is a reality in that conundrum, “Mice and Men” will leave you shattered, yet uplifted.
To the end, the dream of self-sufficiency and contentment on a piece of one’s own land sustains people in this story. Yet there is a tragedy, briefly but deeply felt, in the character of Candy, who gains a sense of hope in glimpsing the ideal of “the fat of the land” only to have it shattered.
Candy’s tragedy is that his dream survives only a moment and is crushed before he has time to even briefly savor it. At least with George and Lennie their dream has been sustained, for months if not years, by imagining the rabbits and the roof over their heads, and the stove of their own and their own cow making cream “so thick you can hardly cut it.”
That negative within the positive is like a harbinger of the disappointment to come, but what’s special about the story is that Steinbeck celebrates the small and simple joys that can add up to big happiness. Humans are happiest when they can grasp the slender sinews of their dreams and when they share those hopes and dreams with others.
Neither George nor Lennie, and certainly not Candy, would ever on their own dream of rabbits in cages. A dream, even an unattainable one, exists only when it is known by the other. Lenny might have been incapable of dreaming of “tending the rabbits” without George framing it, and George probably would never believed in it without Lenny’s simple but tenacious hope. Steinbeck, and Dallman and her cast, leave us asking, “Who needed the dream the most?”
In the end, when Candy asks George, “You and me can get that place, can’t we?” and George says that it was something only he and Lenny had, it is not just the dream but the friendship that is over. One wonders what happens to Candy after that.
Director’s notes by Lynda Dallman
Plays for Non-Profits is proud to partner with Columbia Center for the Arts for our sixth-annual production, Of Mice and Men. Over 30 local actors and technicians volunteered to bring this classic, Depression-era play to Gorge-area audiences. We hope you are as delighted with the results as we are.
For those who have neither read the book nor seen the movie versions of Steinbeck’s novella, it is set in Salinas, Calif., during the late 1930s. A pair of migrant agricultural laborers, George and Lennie, travel to a ranch to buck barley. They soon learn that their dream of making enough money to “have a place of their own” is shared by many of the other down-and-out ranch hands.
Although set during the Great Depression, modern audiences can still relate to universal desires for a sense of place and belonging. However, as Steinbeck reveals, when those desires are unfulfilled, they are often replaced with feelings of “placelessness” and loneliness.
“Placelessness,” as Gertrude Stein famously remarked, “is when there is no there there.” Without a sense of place and belonging, a darker side of human nature emerges, and this is one of the key themes Steinbeck explores in Of Mice and Men. His realistic imagery, sympathetic humor and keen social perception holds up a mirror, and teaches us that “we can be better people.”
So how can we be better people? Steinbeck suggested in his 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech that we “try to understand each other” and “treat each other with kindness.” Think of all the good we could do in the world if we just followed those simple words of advice!
Plays for Non-Profits is grateful for the kindnesses of Gorge-area businesses who continue to support our work through advertising and discounted services.
We also acknowledge the contributions of Executive Director Kyle DeVaul and CCA staff members Catherine Butler, Caroline Mead and Jane Mederios, who managed all the building logistics. This particular show would never have happened (and my sanity would be long-gone) without the commitment and leadership of assistant director Kathleen Morrow, producer Debbie Olsen, stage manager Bruce Ludwig, lighting director Kathy Crow and prompter Kim Robichaud.
Peter Dallman continued to perform a myriad of tasks this summer, from selling ads to finding props, from running sound to building set. These behind-the-scenes people, along with our talented group of actors, musicians and crew members, gave generously of their time to bring Steinbeck’s characters, settings and lessons to life. They are truly our theater family, in every sense of the word!
Proceeds from ticket sales will allow Columbia Center for the Arts to upgrade its lighting and sound equipment, and to continue its mission of building an arts-rich community.
(Past Plays for Non-Profits include “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Miracle Worker,” all directed by Dallman.)