Chatfield to revisit Great Depression with ‘Of Mice and Men’

March 22, 2019

John Steinbeck wrote “Of Mice and Men” in the 1930s, but Joe Chase thinks the story is as timely as ever.

“It just seems like we don’t care enough about each other anymore,” said Chase, who is directing the Wits’ End Theatre production of “Of Mice and Men.” “This show is all about our mutual humanity. This is all about people looking after each other, coming together. It’s an antidote for the meanness of our age.”

The show opens Friday at the Chatfield Center for the Arts.

“Of Mice and Men,” the play, is based on Steinbeck’s short novel about George and Lennie, a couple of drifters looking for work during the Great Depression. George is the leader, while Lennie is an overgrown man-child who can’t keep away from trouble.

They seem to have finally found a good place to work, but their story ultimately ends in tragedy.

“There’s not much more tragedy you’ll find on the American stage than at the end of ‘Of Mice and Men,’” Chase said.

The play was written by Steinbeck and closely follows the novel. The book is taught in many high schools, but has also been challenged by those who want to ban it.

“I’ve always loved the story,” Chase said. “I’ve always wanted to do the play. It has always appealed to me.”

“Of Mice and Men” is quite a change from the large-cast musicals normally produced by Wits’ End.

“We’re trying to do a winter show and change it up from what we do in summer,” Chase said. “We want to do a serious piece, a tragic piece.”

Chase has cast Brian Bedard in the difficult role of Lennie, with Nathaniel Chase as George.

One connection with the past that interests Chase is that Potter Auditorium, where the play will be presented, was completed just before Steinbeck published “Of Mice and Men.”

The auditorium was a Public Works Administration project, with construction costs shared by the federal government and the Chatfield School District. The Chatfield portion, $44,000, was approved by voters in 1935 despite the financial hardships caused by the Depression.

“Now, 82 years later, we’re bringing together the art and the venue that the era created,” Chase said.

It is another reminder, he said, of how people pull together and support each other in the toughest of times.

“It seems to me, the farther we get from the Depression, I think we lose the lessons we learned,” Chase said.

The play is not recommended for ages 12 and younger.