OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck, directed by Dennis Garnhum, with Shaun Smyth, Ashley Wright, Benjamin Clost, Lisa Norton, John Wright and Stan Lesk. Presented by CanStage at Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, October 19) and runs to November 11, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$95, some rush and Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
Classics of fiction rarely make it to the stage crafted by the original writer.
John Steinbeck didn't let that happen with Of Mice And Men; he wrote the script for the 1937 Broadway production. The emotional, ultimately tragic tale of friends Lennie and George, a pair of drifters during the Depression, has become an American classic.
"And it's a classic for a reason," enthuses Benjamin Clost, who plays the explosive Curley in the CanStage season opener. "It's told with incredible simplicity and unfolds with the feel of Greek tragedy.
"It deals with the non-sexual love between two men, George and Lennie, who are like brothers, the slow Lennie cared for by the more worldly George.
"But there's a real burden in the love, too, because Lennie keeps George from realizing his own dreams. Yet George won't let go, because Lennie has no one else; he'd be killed or starve without George. If anything, the selfless George loves Lennie too much."
Clost has just closed the production, directed by Dennis Garnhum, in Calgary. It's about time he returned to the Toronto stage. He's an undervalued actor. After a version of Romeo And Juliet a few years ago, his work here has been limited to some Pinter one-acts.
He first caught my attention in his final year at George Brown, where he handled classical and contemporary works with ease, biting into the language with relish to create memorable characters. He went on to more Shakespeare and a year's tour of The Lion King in the States, and later this year plays the giggly Mozart in Amadeus and tackles a new work by Michael Rubenfeld.
"I saw myself as a physical comedian when I was in high school, and my idols were Chaplin, Red Skelton and Laurel and Hardy," he smiles. "But at George Brown I fell in love with Shakespeare, and I think that love ultimately stems from my father's passion for the wordplay of Monty Python, which I watched growing up."
Music keeps Clost busy these days. He's songwriter, vocalist and rhythm guitarist in the Mariners, a five-member group that plays folk, blues and rock.
"I have to thank Disney for giving me the confidence to sing in public. The Lion King showed me I could do it, and now music provides a different kind of emotional outlet from acting. Onstage I perform someone else's words; in concert I say what I want."
He doesn't have a lot of stage time in Of Mice And Men, but he's sure to make a mark as the bullying Curley, jealous of his flirtatious wife.
"Curley only shows up for a few minutes in most scenes, and I have to make him fight-picking angry without just playing angry. That's boring to do and to watch, so I have to find the insecurities that make him that way."