Saturday, November 29, 2014

Casting News, Part One: OF MICE AND MEN at Community Players

John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was published as a novella in 1937, but Steinbeck already had plans to put it on stage. By November, 1937, Steinbeck's own adaptation of his novel was playing at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, with a cast that included Broderick Crawford and Wallace Ford as Lennie and George, a troubled pair of migrant ranch hands trying to eke out an existence in California during the Great Depression. Also in the cast -- Will Geer, Grandpa Walton himself. He played Slim, a mule-team driver and a leader in the ranch hierarchy. And Leigh Whipper, the first African-American member of Actors Equity, appeared as Crooks.

By 1939, Of Mice and Men was a movie, directed by Lewis Milestone for Hal Roach Studios, but without either Crawford or Ford. Whipper was the only member of the Broadway cast to appear in the film. A newcomer named Burgess Meredith played George, the smarter, smaller half of the pair, while Lon Chaney, Jr., who went on to play the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man, took the role of Lennie, George's mentally challenged partner.

The play came back into the spotlight in 1974, in a Broadway production with James Earl Jones as Lennie, and in 1980 in Chicago, in a Steppenwolf production directed by Terry Kinney, with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich as George and Lennie. Sinise later directed Malkovich in a film version, too. Steinbeck's play was revived on Broadway earlier this year, with James Franco and Irish actor Chris O'Dowd.

Steinbeck's story is mostly a character study, an examination of the relationship between Lennie and George, whose lives are so inextricably linked. Lennie is large in stature, but his size and strength are at odds with his fondness for petting and holding soft things, including rabbits and puppies. As they travel from place to place, always one step ahead of trouble, George and Lennie dream of owning their own ranch instead of always scraping by working for other people. But, in the end, their conflicts with the sadistic son of their ranch boss and his flirtatious wife put everything in jeopardy.

Of Mice and Men is on the schedule for Community Players in January, with performances from January 16 to 25, 2015. Penny Wilson will direct Dave Krostal, who appeared in various roles in Spamalot with Players and as a photographer grappling with ethical and relationship problems in Time Stands Still at Heartland, as George, and Rick Clemmons, well-known locally as a stand-up comedian, as Lennie.

Spencer Powell will play Curley, the "handy" man who takes an instant dislike to Lennie, with Nicole Aune as his wife, Mae. Also in the cast are George Freeman as Curley's father, the boss of the place; Joe Culpepper as Candy, an aging ranch hand; Paul Vellella as "princely" Slim; Joe Strupek as Carlson; and Thom Rakestraw as Whit. No one has been announced yet for Crooks.

For more information or to order tickets, visit the Community Players website here.

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