‘Of Mice and Men’: Live, on screen
Erin McAuliffe | Thursday, February 5, 2015
Screen stars on a theatre stage on film.
This is what I was treated to at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday at the National Theatre Live recording of the 2014 Broadway production of “Of Mice And Men.”
The play marks National Theatre Live’s first venture into Broadway after success with airing British theatre productions on screen — and a better choice could not have presented itself for the opportunity.
James Franco (“127 Hours,” “The Interview,” a bunch of other things) plays proactive, fiery and compassionate George Milton, while Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids,” “St. Vincent”) plays cumbersome, innocent and dependent Lennie Small.
Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”) plays Curly’s “tart” wife. Desperate for any conversation or connection, but presenting trouble any time she is around because the jealous, vindictive, “handy” Curly doesn’t want any competition, Meester stirred empathy in a character that can be a pretty flat read. It was almost as if she was playing a retro “Queen B” stuck in the west, when she longed for New York and to be “in pictures.”
Directed by Anna Shapiro, the play did not lack star power. Broadway plays do not normally draw crowds via household names or Playbills featuring attractive A-list actors — however, Shapiro is trying out this tactic so frequently used in film.
She casted the same way in her more recent production, “This Is Our Youth,” starring Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Superbad”) and Tavi Gevinson (“Rookie” author and “Nylon” Magazine’s “It Girl”).
With a cast of stars used to cameras, the show lent itself to a recording. However, a filmed version of a play is like a three-ringed circus with curtains over two rings at all times. The camera decides what is important on stage, not you. An inherent part of Broadway is the stage setting enveloping your eyes with no interruptions or instructions. The filmed version, although allowing for up-close shots of emotions that would be missed in the nosebleeds, limits your visibility and interpretation. It is like bowling with the bumpers raised — a nice guide that provides a less fulfilling outcome.
The film works in an intermission feature that allowed the audience to hear Shapiro, Franco and O’Dowd voice their opinions of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella. They discuss the themes of the futile American dream and loneliness.
The production emphasizes the loneliness ranchmen feel as they move from job to job with no one stable in their lives. Lennie frequently pesters George to describe why they are different from those men.
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us,” George explains to Lennie.
“Because … because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you,” O’Dowd chimes in, delighted grin on his face as he is about to break into Lennie’s signature laugh-and-clap sequence.
Their relationship stuck out to Shapiro as similar to her own relationship with her children.
“You look at these guys and see this weird match of competency and incompetency,” she said in the intermission feature. “And then I thought, that is what I am — a capable person in charge of a few incapable people.”
Of course, George does wonder what his life would be like without Lennie “making messes and causing trouble.”
“If I was alone, I could live so easy,” he says as they lay by the river — I couldn’t help but flashback to Franco in “127 Hours” in my head and laugh about the irony of this statement.
To counter this statement, Lennie offers to leave for the mountains, at which George laughs and does not even consider the prospect.
The love between the two will remind you of the love you felt for this novel in 10th grade English and the love you will find for the story told in a new medium.
“Of Mice and Men” will play at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $16 for students.