TO STAGE A CLASSIC: The Makings of Of Mice and Men
"Someday we're gonna live off the fatta the lan.” George and Lennie are two friends looking for work during the Great Depression in John Steinbeck’s popular novel-turned play, Of Mice and Men. They have dreams of one day owning their own farm, but various obstacles seem to derail that process, including Lennie's excessive strength and mental handicaps. Despite all of this however, George sets out to protect Lennie as they continue on their journey. What unfolds is a story of loyalty, heartbreak, and big dreams.
A story of this magnitude has the ability to tug at your heartstrings, and can be quite emotionally and physically demanding for some actors. Those words speak true to Daniel Jones who plays the simple-minded yet endearing Lennie. The role has been played by actors on stage and in film including John Malkovich and Broderick Crawford. However, when he was preparing for the role, he didn't look to other performers for inspiration. "I try to stay true to the given director's vision of the play,” he comments. “Lennie thinks about himself in a child-like way, what pleases/displeases him.” Having begun acting later in life, Jones is a natural and brings loads of spirit and insight to the variety of characters he has played. When he first moved to the Charleston area, he was driving past the Flowertown Players Theatre in Summerville and saw that they were having auditions for the play Doubt by John Patrick Shanley.
He decided to audition to see what it was all about. Little did he know that he would end up playing the title role of Father Flynn. It was an event that would jump start his love for theatre, TV, and film, building quite the acting resume along the way. Lennie would not get around without the help and guidance of his only friend, George, played by Philip Gajewski,
George is not only Lennie’s protector but a quick witted, intelligent, idealist with big dreams of owning his own farm. It's a role that basically fell into Philip Gajewski's lap. He calls it "a whim chance" and also states, "I loved the book growing up, and I seized the opportunity. It had been a while since I've acted. I like that George is somewhat of a caregiver, and also a genuinely good guy." Having attended USC for business, Philip still found time for theatre classes. He acted in smaller plays when he was in grammar school, but his first big role was playing Lee in True West in college. The chemistry between these two actors is undeniable, and we are looking forward to seeing the evolution of the show onstage.
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This play is filled with personal stories from director Chris Weatherhead, having previously acted in the 1977 production at Buck's County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.
She played the role of Curley’s Wife alongside award-winning actor, Tom Poston. Weatherhead is a master of both stage and screen, having performed along-side acting greats in pieces such as ABC's soap opera The Edge of Night (Alicia Van Dine), the feature film All For Liberty (also co-writing and co-directing), the Off-Broadway show Table Settings (The Wife), and training with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. When asked what the biggest differences were between acting in the show and directing it, she reminisces on her youthful years. "When I was acting in the show, I was about 19 or 20, and I was unaware of many of the different themes and poetic imagery that Steinbeck was using to inspire hearts and minds. In the years hence, I have come to realize this story has continued to captivate audiences. It connects with some of our deepest concerns in life, concerns of friendship, loneliness, loyalty, secrets, dreams, and even though it's a tragic tale, oddly enough there still seems to be hope. It connects with my summers as a kid in Northern California visiting my aunt, and it's a deep part of me”. Having lived in places all over the world, Weatherhead believes that "the core needs of human beings are the same everywhere: to be respected, to be loved, to be needed, and to achieve one's potential. All the guys on the ranch are seeking those core things.”
The story is so popular that there are many different versions and it can be hard to pick your favorite. Nevertheless, Chris Weatherhead has some advice that seems tried and true. "A wise veteran director once gave me the advice that any successful production is the result of great casting. The director must understand that every actor has different ways of approaching a role. A director must inspire each actor to get to their fullest potential. For me, it's always important that everyone has a good time." Chemistry is another point that can make or break a show. When it comes to what makes a good scene partner, Gajewski says that, "Chemistry is the most obvious answer. But also, being able to intuitively respond to each other so you can create a natural energy and flow.” Jones comments on that by saying that "It helps to spend time offstage together, but also to remember what is demanded for the role, and put outside things aside.”
Although Of Mice and Men may be known as a sad tale it’s filled with lighthearted moments onstage and behind set. Our cast enjoys gardening, good wine, disc golf, and spending quality time with loved ones when they’re not studying lines and learning blocking. Of Mice and Men is a story for the ages. Join us January 14th - February 13th at Threshold Rep for this epic tale of friendship.
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