Steinbeck’s work adapted onstage at Riviera Theater, considers modern discriminatory societal structures

The Geneseo Community Players put on a production of “Of Mice and Men” in the Riviera Theater from Friday Jan. 19 to Saturday Jan. 20. The play featured many talented actors, including Geneseo student musical theater major sophomore Kyle Johnson who played Crooks. Pictured above from left to right: Curley’s wife (Amanda Lynch), Lenny Small (Toby Drowne) and George Milton (Chris Norton). (Catherine White/Arts and Entertainment Editor)

John Steinbeck’s compelling words came to life at the Riviera Theater in a performance based on his classic novel Of Mice and Men

The Geneseo Community Players presented the famous play from Friday Jan. 19 to Saturday Jan. 20. The story follows the protagonists George Milton, played by Chris Norton, and Lenny Small, played by Toby Drowne, and their struggles as they work on a farm in Northern California in the mid-1930s. 

Lenny suffers from a mental disability, causing him to want to touch soft objects—such as animals, cloth and hair. At times, Lenny is unaware of his own strength and he unintentionally causes harm to the animals he cares for and the people around him. 

The show depicts several marginalized groups in society, such as the mentally and physically disabled, African Americans, women and the elderly. Through these characters, the play explores how these individuals cope with isolation and asks the question: what happens to you when society no longer finds you useful?

The main characters in “Of Mice and Men” attempt to answer this question with their dream of purchasing their own land in the future. Lenny and George are overheard by several individuals on the farm when they talk about buying such a piece of land, including the elderly and physically disabled Candy, played by Stan Janczak, and the African American character Crooks, played by musical theater major sophomore Kyle Johnson. These individuals wish to join Lenny and George on this adventure in order to escape society’s discrimination. 

Additional themes explored in the play connect to issues the United States is grappling with now, according to director Blaine VanRy.

“In this small microcosm in this small little ranch in California, there’s the social hierarchy at play that goes right on down the line,” VanRy said. “It’s just an amazing story, and even though it was written 80 years ago, you can make a lot of correlations to what’s going on today.”

Before rehearsing, the cast discussed important themes found in this work in order to understand the characters and intricacies the play addresses on a deeper level, according to VanRy. Johnson clarified that he was thrilled to be part of this production in order to reflect on the struggles African Americans have and are currently facing. 

“I just felt a great calling to be part of the show because I’ve been in a lot of different musicals throughout my life and I feel like this has a greater bearing on what I want to do with my life,” Johnson said. “[With Crooks] being the only black character and having to struggle with a lot of different things, such as racism on the ranch and segregation, it just really shows what black people have gone through in the past, how much different it is and how we still have so much more to go through and to excel as human kind.”

VanRy’s production featured astounding performances from all of the cast members. Johnson captured the struggle of African Americans perfectly and the emotional strain that results from such harsh discrimination. Additionally, Drowne’s depiction of Lenny in the play beautifully portrayed the innocence of the character and Lenny’s ability to form deep connections between society’s other outcasts, such as Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife, played by Amanda Lynch.

The play also incorporated music from the 1930s both before its first scene and during intermission, which was performed by Soren Thomas. The songs, all written by the renowned American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, reflected many of the themes present in the play, such as the idea of traveling on a lonesome road searching for work, a refusal to be treated poorly and the struggle of surviving in California without a lot of money. This additional layer of performance supplemented Steinbeck’s work exquisitely.

After a successful weekend of shows, VanRy hopes audience members will reflect on the progress society has made in becoming more accepting, but also hopes they realize that improvements still need to be made.

“People kind of lose a sense of history. You tend to be focused on what’s going on in front of you,” VanRy said. “You have to know where you came from to know where you’re headed.”