Meet George and Lennie (Of Mice and Men)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, tells the story of George (played by Reuben Bryan) and Lennie (played by Chris Yeckel), two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression. The relationship between the two men is the focal point of the play. The intelligent but weak George watches over Lennie, an emotionally and challenged giant.
This upcoming weekend (Apr 20-23, 2017), the Auburn Player’s production of this classic story will take the stage at Cayuga Community College. We caught up with the actors playing the two men to learn more about them and the characters they are playing
Reuben Bryan, who plays George, is a Senior at Wells College. Hailing from the verdant hills of Vermont, he ventured forth into the great unknown of upstate New York. Upon realization that it’s not very exciting here he chose to occupy his time with theater and stuff.
Chris Yeckel, plays Lennie, has been on stage since high school. He and his wife Heather were both recently part of the APCT award-winning production of “Almost, Maine.” They have two talented daughters, Lara and Emma. In addition, Chris plays the electric bass for his company’s band, “The Actuators”, and recently performed for “Rockin’ the Redhouse.”
A Few Questions
How do you feel about taking on such a well known play? Does that make it harder?
Reuben: Over the course of rehearsal I’ve done my best to distance myself from any preconceptions about the characters and story and try to work off of my own impressions about the story and character interactions as they played out in rehearsal. It does pose add a bit of difficulty not having an established platform to work off of, but working around it was simply a matter of establishing my own habits.
Chris: To the contrary, it can help to bring in audiences you might not normally get. For the actors, I think we do have to hit certain proficiency with our performances so that the audience can recognize the character they already have in their mind, but beyond that, they will supplement your performance with their own imagination. However, if you take the character in a different direction than they might be thinking, it’s possible to lose some people.
Can you talk about the relationship between George and Lennie? Had you met before you were cast in these roles, and how did you develop that relationship as actors?
Reuben: I hadn’t met Chris before working on this production, so the majority of my interactions with him were through the characters of Lennie and George. Our relationship as it appears on stage is the result of our work during rehearsal.
Chris: The relationship between George and Lennie is more like family than friendship to me. Lennie looks up to George as a role model and protector, while George feels a responsibility for Lennie that goes beyond typical friendship. Though Reuben and I hadn’t met before auditions, it has been easy working with him, in and out of scenes. We’ve found common ground in a shared love of the Legend of Zelda video games and their music, which Reuben often played in breaks at rehearsal.
Are there parts of yourself you brought to this role?
Reuben: I bring a part of myself to every role, but George was more challenging than most because you can’t play him as a single character type. He changes tactics all the time depending on who he’s with and what he wants, and there’s a lot of subtext behind what he says and what he does that needs analysis before you can fully give enough credit to the role. I do my best to play characters as I feel I would act in their position, which makes George all that more challenging due to the differences in time, place, and occupation between him and I.
Chris: Having helped raise two children on the autism spectrum with my wife, Heather, I don’t see Lennie as “dumb”, rather I see him having issues with appropriately handling emotions and also sensory overstimulation (hearing and touch). I find it interesting that this well known, classic character, written in 1937, presents so clearly something that we are just finally beginning to understand here in 2017.
What are some challenges you had playing this role?
Reuben: This play has some pretty heavy material within it, and I believe that the reason it’s remained popular for all these years is due to the underlying messages and themes within the story. Everyone has a little plot of land in their heart set aside for something that they know they might never attain, but it doesn’t stop people from striving for it all the same. It is a part of the human condition to want a better life, and because of this I believe that this play remains just as relevant now as it did when it was written.
Chris: The main challenge for me has been line memorization, given the overlap between this show and the ESTA Festival performance of Almost, Maine.
What relevance does the play have for young people today?
Reuben: As far as its relevance to young people specifically, I suppose you could look at it as if every young man or woman were a drifter just the same as George and Lennie. Maybe they have their dream firm in their minds, maybe not, but more often than not they have a long ways to go to get to where they’ll end up and it’s a story like this that shows that it’s not going to be an easy time. Life isn’t a fairy tale and no matter how hard you try sometimes it’s just not going to work out. You aren’t always going to get what you want. Sorry kids.
Chris: I think the show is still very relevant. I never read it in school, and ended up reading it just before auditions. The biggest message I get from the show is, everyone is looking for a place to feel like they belong. Everyone in this show is different or “damaged” in some way, and when they set that aside to realize that’s something that makes them alike, they can build friendships and pursue dreams. Those that can’t make it difficult for the rest.
Join Chris, Reuben, and the entire cast of “Of Mice and Men” this weekend.
Remember all students are free