Literary classic

Courtesy photo Stephen Michael Guice as Lennie and Brandis Ajay as Curly’s Wife act out a pivotal scene in the play “Of Mice and Men.”

Cresson Lake Playhouse brings John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men” to the barn theater Oct. 3 to 6.

Artistic director Paul Seymour discribed the stage adaptation as “very similar” to the book that is often required and popular reading for area high school students.

“It’s definitely not a comedy and it’s a fairly dark story. But Director Steve Guice is really passionate about the story and he will use his extensive experience to bring something different to it,” Seymour said.

Among Stephen Michael Guice’s previous directing credits are “Exit the King,” “Spitfire Girl,” “The Fantastics” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

The play tells the story of two drifters, George and Lennie, with delusions of living off the “fat of the land.” To earn money for their own place, the two men find work on a ranch where George looks after the man-child Lennie. When tragedy hits the ranch, George is faced with a moral question: How should he deal with Lennie before the ranchers find him and take matters into their own hands?

Steinbeck draws upon his teenage experiences working alongside migrant farm workers. The play’s gritty drama and tragic themes led the play to be chosen as Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle when it first opened on Broadway. Later, the first film adaptation received four Academy Award nominations, according to a release from CLP.

Guice, who plays the man-child, Lennie, is joined by veteran actors, Jake Herbster as George, Joe Caroff as Whit, Joe Rishell as Slim, Larry Hutchison as Candy, Brandis Ajay as Curly’s Wife and CLP’s Facilities Director, Tom Stewart, as The Boss.

Guice’s approach is to “tap into (Lennie’s) innocence and naivety. Steinbeck doesn’t specifically say what Lennie has, but he has some traits of autism,” Guise said. “He has very child-like speech on par with that of a 7 or 8 year old. He has a big body with immense strength and is described as lifting 400-pound sacks of barley and throwing them onto the truck in the field.”

Size matters for this role so even the 6-foot-2-and a half Guice wears special shoes to add two-inches to his height.

“I find myself running into things. I have a knot on my head because we have some areas of low clearance at the theater,” he said, speaking after the his first rehearsal wearing the shoes.

Guice has directed or acted with several members of the cast including Herbster and Ajay. He praised Ajay for taking on the “often villified character that is most often portrayed as a tart who flirts. But really she is just lonely and wants someone to talk to.”

“Curly’s Wife” is abused by her husband and the men are told not to talk to her. “They are mean to her and the audience tends to blame her for what happens,” Guice said.

For Ajay, “Curley’s Wife” is “unlike any other role I’ve played” so it has stretched her acting abilities and is an opportunity to work with Guice for the fourth time. “It’s making me a better actress. The character is very emotional and (playing her) isn’t easy,” Ajay said. “I think my character doesn’t even have a name to show that no one has ever cared about her. So I want to make the character as emphathetic as possible and get the audience to care about her and let them see how unfortunate her life has been.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.