“Sometimes I have a vision of human personality as a kind of fetid jungle full of monsters and demons and little lights. It seems to me a dangerous place to venture,” writes John Steinbeck in one of the many letters that have become known as “The East of Eden Letters.”
However dangerous that place of human personality can be, however, it may seem a chaotic jungle, but Steinbeck never deters from fleshing out the insides of his characters in his many novels and plays.
In his novel, later adapted as a play, “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck shows us characters facing a challenge, some strange, some weird, but characters that, however bizarre they may appear - such as Lenny’s pension for petting mice and sticking them in his pockets - the audience connects to them in the loneliness and isolation that life may hold. Yet it is not the loneliness that holds the audience in its cold hands, but, rather, the depiction of a friendship set amidst this loneliness.
George and Lenny, two migrant workers without a home, without a family, traveling the land looking for work at any farm that will offer them pay and a place to stay. They are all alone, except for each other(anybody having companionship in migrant work is a rarity).
“Maybe everybody in the whole damn world’s scared of each other,” fellow ranchhand Slim tells George upon first meeting.
“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,” says director Ian Belknap. 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.”
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel, Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought,” wrote Steinbeck in his essay “In Awe of Words.”
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 tonight, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m.
Like the characters in “Of Mice and Men,” The Acting Company, though based in New York City, has no theater home to call it’s own. “We are the last itinerant vagabond professional theater company that tours with no theater,” Belknap says.
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 on a fall West Coast tour, starting in Santa Fe and taking them 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,” says Belknap.
The world where Steinbeck lived is similar to Pagosa Country, with endless roads and skies, and mountains that contain a wilderness which is the outward embodiment of the wild spirit of each living individual.
“The play asks the question, what does it mean to be alive?” Belknap says. “It may not say that in words,” Belknap continues, but it asks that through a variety of means in the play — from the death of people to animals, to the various connections and relationships characters have with each other, with nature, with animals and pets and even the relationship with the interior being.
“What we have is clear, distinct world that is full of color,” Belknap says. This color is enhanced by Steinbeck’s keen sight for nature and the importance it had in his work. Coming from New York City, Belknap says the chance to connect to nature is less than for those of us living in the San Juan mountains or the high desert around the Sangre de Cristos.
And in a fast advancing technological world designed to bring people closer together, instead the connection man has to man, and man has to word, is changing. What it means to talk might now mean a text message or google chatting. “Like all technology, it hinders and advances,” Belknap says, adding, “It leaves us looking and wanting.”
In 1962, the space race was on, computers were being built with the dream of personal computer for everyone. During this time, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature. During his acceptance speech, he said, “Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion.”
Though technology had yet to change the basis for conversation like it has today, when Steinbeck wrote “Of Mice and Men” in 1937, things were changing — from phones, to where people found jobs, to how people got a long with each other. To find man again, some characters in Steinbeck’s work first find nature. And there is no man apart from nature.
“This play could be set yesterday, today or tomorrow. Drive on any stretch of the crossroads of America today … the context of our world has changed but our daily life values remain the same as in ‘Of Mice and Men.’ The play fascinates audiences as it shows us ourselves and speaks to our shared human condition: to want, to love, to fear and to die,” Belknap says.
To become a part of this, to fill this need, to see good theater, “Of Mice and Men” will be performed one night, tonight, 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.