Broadway on screen
As the lights turn on in the theatre, concluding the screening of the play Of Mice and Men, Zachary and Marcelo turn to each other.
Zachary: Well. What’d you think?
M: I thought it was pretty good! I mean, I’ve never read the book, but I really liked the plot. It’s like the first real American bromance. Two best friends, looking for a job during the Great Depression, just trying to earn enough money to buy a piece a land for themselves. It’s great!
Z: Yeah the plot is excellent. I read it back in high school, and I just think it’s really hard for any adaptation to ever really come close to the prose. That being said, it was nice to see a lot of the original dialogue from the novel. Of course, one should expect that in a play written by the author of the book himself. Steinbeck wrote it in 1937, when the the play was being put on for the first time.
M: Right. Still, we were also watching the filmed version of the stage adaptation of the book, so there are a few steps in between Steinbeck’s novel and our experience.
Z: Good point. The thing I didn’t like about that was the camera work. I felt like I was missing out on what was happening on the parts of the stage that weren’t being filmed at any given moment. When I see a play, I want to be able to take in the whole field a view.
M: Didn’t love the film direction either. Visually it all looked a little flat, and cinema angles are definitely a weird way to experience a play. They also used this dissolve effect a couple times in a way that felt tacky.
Z: Agreed. Some of the performances were really outstanding, though. Chris O’Dowd—the one who played Lennie—was absolutely incredible. I thought he was just that funny Irish guy from Bridesmaids, but wow. He’s an actor.
M: I’d seen him on Girls a couple times, and I was also really blown away. Speaking of female-led comedies, Joel Garland from Orange Is The New Black played one of the ranch hands, Carlson. He was quite good, but still didn’t compare to O’Dowd. I thought James Franco, as George Milton, was decent too. He’s one of those actors who’s hard to separate from their characters at times, especially after movies like This Is The End in where he literally plays himself. I never really got to the point where I was thinking of him “George” as opposed to “dirty James Franco with a gritty accent.” But even then he’s a good enough actor that he was believable.
Z: I see where you’re coming from there. I definitely got the vibe of “super-famous Hollywood actor trying to seem distinguished,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The character of George actually always gives the same impression to the reader. He’s a poor man who tries to become something more, searching for the American dream. That’s the one thing about this play adaptation: It may be a bit stilted compared to the novel, or even a movie version, but the plot is timeless, and will always hold the audience’s attention. Anyone can sympathize with George and Lennie.
M: Definitely. As someone who hasn’t read the book, I really felt for the characters. One thing they talked about in the making-of documentary they showed in between the acts was how the characters were searching for the same things we are in our lives today. Their ambitions are modest, and that’s why they’re so ubiquitous. Did any moments in the show stand out to you?
Z: I really love that opening scene. It’s just George and Lennie talking, but somehow they disclose so much information about themselves and each other. The audience has only known them for less than ten minutes, but they feel so familiar. I think that part translated best from prose to stage. How about you?
M: One that struck me was the ending. Seventy year spoiler warning: Lennie dies. I knew that going in, but I didn’t the how or why. The ending sequence just worked so well. When Lennie inadvertently kills Leighton Meester’s character, he seals his fate but doesn’t understand the repercussions of his actions. And then George makes the choice to kill him humanely, rather than have him killed by a mob, and my heart really went out to both of them. It really gave a strong sense of both characters as people who just wanted a connection with someone who understood them. Lennie’s attempts at gentleness just go so horribly awry, and O’Dowd really communicates this sense of sorrow and frustration when he finally realizes what he did.
Z: I agree. It’s a really stunning scene. I wouldn’t say that it was the best movie or play out there, but it was definitely a good use of an afternoon. If you had to give it a letter grade, what would you give it? A “B?”
M: Yeah, I really think that O’Dowd’s performance made the whole play worth watching. A “B.”
Zachary and Marcelo nod in agreement, and leave the theatre.