Of Mice and Men is the timeless, heartwarming tale of two itinerant ranch hands who, with the help of the Great Mouse Lords of the West, lift America out of the Depression with teamwork, compassion and the realization that, two legs or four, we can all live off the fat of the land.
A stage version of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel is now showing on Broadway, starring James Franco as George Milton and Chris O’Dowd as Lennie Small. Sometimes his Irish accent pokes out, and it’s adorable.
Snowball — the greatest of the nine western mouse lords and the one who convinces Curley that his wife really does love him and that Lennie just likes to hug soft things in a non-sexual way — is played by a third-grader in a furry suit that has an animatronic face controlled by a man behind the curtain with a big remote control. We pay no attention to him.
The climax of the play, when Snowball, in a show of solidarity with his human brothers, stands up and declares that, “Two legs and four legs are both good,” thus averting war between the two peoples, is among the most touching moments ever acted. Theater-goers spoke openly of Tony nominations for the third-grader in the robotic mouse suit as they exited the Longacre Theatre on a Saturday afternoon.
James Franco does a remarkable job of being James Franco pretending to be George Milton. When he saves Lennie from Slim and the posse of mouse-hating ranchers, you almost forget that it’s James Franco. But Lennie really steals that scene with his soliloquy about love, understanding and how mice and men both love ketchup and rabbits, who remain neutral throughout the conflict.
“Peace has to start somewhere, George,” Lennie says.
There is more heart-wrenching earlier when they shoot Candy’s asthmatic dog as an example to the mouse armies who have risen up against the ranch. The foreshadowing there with the Luger is obvious and subtle at the same time. You know Lennie has to sacrifice himself later to unite the worlds of men and mice to stop the Clone Wars, but that only makes the hurt greater.
Despite what Curley says, you learn some mice and some men are not more equal than others. You believe this when President Hoover arrives in the final act to oversee the sale of the ranch from men to mice, brokering a new era in human-mouse relations.
In the distance — this is a credit to the stage designers and Broadway artisans — you can see the statue of Lennie that marks his grave. He is a hero, and James Franco-George Milton will never forget that, nor will the Great Mouse Lords of the West, they who were once so warlike.
But like in Steinbeck’s novel, how the mice got so big is never explained.
Note: I made all of this up, and some of it may be Animal Farm. I did really see the play, though. It was good.