Hailing from New York—via a bunch of other states—The Acting Company brings Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men to the Modlin Center.
The Acting Company’s mission is twofold: to foster excellent potential in emerging actors (the likes of Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone) and to expose we Luddites to classical theater. Steinbeck’s mission is a little more grim. Of Mice and Men explores a lot of themes, from loneliness to broken dreams to emotional abuse.
I talked to director Ian Belknap about his flourishing career at The Acting Company and his love for this particular production.
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How did you get involved with the Acting Company?
I’ve had three different positions since 2008—Staff Repertory Director, who maintains shows on the road; then Associate Artistic Director; and now Artistic Director.
The mission of the company is so clear, and I love the classics, so it’s a perfect match for me. I also simply like spending time with actors, I like leading, and I like using my visual imagination.
We’ve all read Of Mice and Men in high school. Why should we see this version?
Our job is to follow the playwright’s intent, and it has endured as a classic for so long for a reason. The story taps into our humanity and who we are—we all want a little piece of land, and we want to share it with someone else. So we made the play about people by really characterizing them.
On a surface level, it’s clear that Lennie needs George, but it’s not always clear why George needs Lennie. The actors and I have spent a lot of time exploring that, and we’ve decided that at its core, it’s a love story. These two care for each other in a very masculine world. They’re so isolated from others, and their friendship has a profound effect on the other characters in the play.
What do you like most about this play compared to the others you’ve directed?
Each time you direct a play you sort of live with it. Spending so much time with Shakespeare, the modern play presents enormous contrast for me. With a Shakespeare play, you get to know the characters through language. With contemporary language, we don’t say what we mean, but Shakespeare always says what he means. His characters never lie.
So for Of Mice and Men, we prepared our language differently. And it’s so much different scenically as well. The other challenge we faced was trying to reconcile contemporary expectations of a play’s structure with a script that was written in the 1930s. We can’t split it up into three acts anymore with huge scene changes every time. We’re limited to one intermission, and we have to make sure we can pack it all up and set it up in the same day, with enough time, hopefully, to get a meal at some point.
How has this production been received in the states you’ve visited so far?
We’re nearing the end of the tour, which began in October in Santa Fe, and it’s not only been well-received, it’s been really successful for the actors.
Are there any actors in particular we can keep an eye on?
Christopher Michael McFarland (Lennie) and Joseph Midyett (George) are terrific together—great examples of classically trained actors doing contemporary plays instead.
Megan Bartle (Curley’s wife) gives a really sensitive and beautiful performance, and Yaegel T. Welch Walsh (Crooks) is really haunting. And then there are actors like Chris Thorn (Carlson), who actually make you believe he loves the dog he will end up killing, and I find that really moving.
See Of Mice and Men at the Modlin Center on Tuesday April 23rd at 7:30 PM.
Photo courtesy of Modlin center