'Of Mice and Men' revisited
at Alley Theatre
By Ken Fountain
Senior Staff Writer
John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men
is one of the most celebrated classics of American literature. It is so
revered, in fact, that Houston audiences have the chance to see two onstage
versions in the coming weeks. Beginning Feb. 1, Houston Grand Opera offers
the operatic adaptation of the tale by contemporary composer Carlisle Floyd.
Jim Caldwell/Courtesy of
the Alley Theatre
Shelley Calene-Black and
David Rainey appear in a pivotal scene in the Alley Theatre's production
of John Steinbeck's classic tale Of Mice and Men, which runs through Feb.
17 on the Neuhaus Arena Stage.
Steinbeck's own stage version (co-written
by actor/director George S. Kaufman) opened Wednesday as the first production
on the newly renovated Neuhaus Arena Stage, which
was destroyed last year by the floodwaters
of Tropical Storm Allison. It's a fitting choice, since one of the story's
central themes is man's continuing search for hope in the face of
Originally published in 1936 at the height
of the Great Depression, Steinbeck's deceptively simple story offers an
expansive glimpse of that terrible time. It is told through the lens
of the friendship of two itinerant farm
workers in 1930s California.
George Milton and Lennie Small are a study
in contrasts. George, keen-minded and wiry-framed, and Lennie, slow-witted
and massive, have traveled together for years. George,
although frequently exasperated by Lennie's
forgetfulness and tendency to inadvertently get into trouble, nonetheless
feels a special responsibility toward him. Lennie has a
childlike sense of wonder and love of
small animals, but unfortunately doesn't know his own strength.
As the play opens, George and Lennie have
just escaped some unpleasant business in Northern California and are headed
to another dead-end job on a ranch, where they hope
to scrape up enough money to buy their
As soon as they arrive, their interactions
with the ranch boss's family and the other ranch hands portend the futility
of George and Lennie's "best-laid schemes." Undercurrents of
jealousy and rage threaten to shatter
the seemingly idyllic pastoral setting in sudden explosions of violence.
Even audience members who are well acquainted
with the story, either through the book or its several film adaptations,
will find something new in this production, directed by
longtime Alley acting company member James
Although it is completely faithful to Steinbeck's
vision, new dynamics are created through the casting of black actors in
the lead roles, as well as several of the secondary ones.
George and Lennie have traditionally been
portrayed as white. Making them African-American, especially in their time
and place, adds an entirely new tension to the scenes
involving the boss's temperamental son
Curly and his overly flirtatious wife.
The actors in the production are uniformly
first-rate. K. Todd Freeman brings just the right mix of world-weariness
and hopefulness to George, a man burdened
by an unfortunate combination of intelligence,
hard luck and loyalty. David Rainey as Lennie is remarkable in portraying
the subtle shifts of mood beneath the character's
Black's staging of the production makes
excellent use of the intimate Neuhaus space. Audience members, seated on
all four sides of the central stage, are completely drawn into
this tale of small people whose small
dreams exceed their grasp, and who reach for each other in the face of
the loneliness and cruelty of the wide world.
Showtimes are Tuesdays through Thursdays,
7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30
p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $40 and $45, and are available
at the box office or online at www.alleytheatre.org. Groups of 10 or more
can purchase discount tickets by calling (713) 228-9341, ext.
Of Mice and Men
**** (out f five stars)
Director: James Black
Alley Theatre, Nehaus Arena Stage
615 Texas Ave.