More than 75 years after John Steinbeck wrote “Of Mice and Men,” the classic work of literature — read by generations of high school students — is still subject to criticism.
Objections raised over the years by those who consider its language offensive and racist put the novella on the American Library Association’s list of “Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.”
St. Charles resident Dennis Brown is familiar with these criticisms. The director of the upcoming “Of Mice and Men” stage production at Vero Voce School of Performing Arts, he was told the novella “is a prejudiced book” because of its content and language.
“That was life,” Brown said of the book. “That was how life was. You could portray it as different, but then it would be a lie. It’s a true study into true feelings and true emotions.”
The words of Steinbeck will come to life when Vero Voce’s production opens Nov. 7 for a three-week run at its St. Charles theater. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays.
The play tells the tragic story of migrant workers George Milton and Lennie Small, who travel California in search of work during the Great Depression.
George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is mentally disabled. Together, they dream of one day owning their own farm. As they move from one place to the next, they encounter a variety of people and viewpoints.
Through their story, the way in which African-Americans were viewed and treated is portrayed, as well as the way in which people viewed migrant workers, the less fortunate and those of different mental abilities, Brown said.
“The things that happened, happened to real people at the time,” he said.
Their story is based, in part, on Steinbeck’s experiences as a “bindle stiff,” traveling from farm to farm, looking for work.
“That’s what they were,” Brown said George and Lennie. “It’s a snapshot of that time.”
The play features a cast of nine from throughout the western suburbs.
“The actors are absolutely superb,” he said. “We have a great troupe.”
Brown, who has directed shows in the United States and England, said the cast was told “to not ignore all the little nuances that are part of the story by Steinbeck.”
“It’s really become a director’s dream to sit back and say, ‘go at it,’” he said. “It’s a pleasure to see actors share their craft.”
Vero Voce has already had inquiries from local schools that are interested in bringing students to see the production. In many high schools, “Of Mice and Men” is required reading.
“I will offer any schools, if they want to come as a group ... we’re willing to let them come in at half price if they come on Thursdays,” Brown said.
“No one will leave the theater with a dry eye,” Brown said.