“In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.”
That is how John Steinbeck paraphrased the first verse of the Gospel of John; the last line of his acceptance speech for the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature speech.
Word with man; man as word; man with man.
That is what Steinbeck gives the audience in his novel (which he later adapted as a play), “Of Mice and Men.” At the outset, from the cover of most books and from the first scene of the play, there is man with man — Lenny and George, two migrant workers going from farm to farm. No home, no family, but what they have is their words of dreams and friendship.
The play is being brought to the area by The Acting Company, from New York City, and will be performed at the Dulce High School Theater on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.
The Acting Company was founded in 1972 by the Oscar-winning actor/producer/director John Houseman and Margot Harley from the first graduating class of the Juilliard School’s Drama Division. Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America) and Rainn Wilson (The Office) are some of the company’s alumni.
In honor of their 40th season, and in honor of the author John Steinbeck, the company is going a fall West Coast tour, starting in Santa Fe, through New Mexico to Nevada, up the West Coast and into the mountains of Montana.
“We’re celebrating the author, touring the world where he lived,” said director Ian Belknap.
Touring the West can be more challenging than the East. While in the East, going from one town to another is a simple task; in the West, long chunks of time logged on the road is just part of life. For the crew and the actors on tour, that means long hours in the bus, and quick setup times at the theaters.
“The real heroes of The Acting Company are the crew. It’s the most difficult part,” Belknap says. From town to town, across the country, along with a bus of actors, come trucks and trailers filled with props, lights, everything needed to transform a stage into a Broadway-sized production.
However, the landscape of the West provides the perfect setting for “Of Mice and Men” to be performed. The land is bigger, the sky encompassing the universe above you, and the land at your feet expanding.
“There is a big scenic element to this play,” Belknap said. Without giving away too much, he said a set involving a bright blue sky, the stars at night and fireflies all help to vivify the story.
“It’s the idea of going to nature to heal,” Belknap said.
The elemental and innocent concerns of the play, loneliness, friendship, living, dying, nature connect with people at any age, at any stage in their lives. The want of companionship resonates within each person.
“There is a real loneliness to this play. What makes Lenny and George so special is their relationship to one another and their continued conversations,” Belknap said. The two men have dreams, have hopes, have each other, and they walk on as workers on a farm full of, what Belknap calls a, “constellation of characters that never talk to anyone.”
“It’s a lonely life on the farm; they live, they eat and that’s life,” Belknap said. And into this lonely life come two men, two men that have words and have man, and these, “two guys with dreams and friendship come in and rock the boat.”
Unlike the city dwellers, this farm life, to most in Pagosa Country, is something familiar, if not lived. What is rare is watching the inner workings of this reality brought to life in live theater.
Belknap, himself from a small town, remembers the first time he watched a professional play. “Nothing compares; there’s nothing like watching a live performance. Theater is not just for Ph.D.s,” Belknap said, continuing, “All people deserve great art, and all people deserve to see great theater.”
From Belknap’s many years with The Acting Company, both touring and in the office, he has witnessed a variety of audiences experience theater for the first time. One of those times, Belknap recalled, left an indelible impression that increased his passion for the mission to take quality theater to the country.
The crew and staff got to the location. At each location, there is a small local crew to help the road crew put up and break down the set. At this stop, Belknap recalls that the theater’s crew consisted of several gentlemen on parole, just doing their community service time. Belknap said it was a little weird, but they were helping, doing the job. That’s how things sometimes go on the road: crews of high school students or crews of parolees.
The production that night was “Henry V.” As the theater began to fill, Belknap noticed that many of the audience members were either on parole or prisoners. “That was one of the most inspiring and raucous crowds,” Belknap said. “Theater was alive … theater was a rock star.”
Because in the end there is word and the word is man and man is with man. And that is good literature, good art, good theater.
Steinbeck touched on this point in the beginning of his Nobel prize speech.
“Literature,” Steinbeck said, “was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches — nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tin-horn mendicants of low-calorie despair. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed.”
To become a part of this, to fill this need, to see good theater, “Of Mice and Men” will be one night, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. in the Dulce High School auditorium. Adults: $15; Students: $10. For tickets or more information call (575) 759-3252, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to dulcetheater.wordpress.com.