Susan Luzzaro 9:45 p.m., June 18
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - currently in a deeply moving production at New Village Arts - tells the tragic story of Lennie Small and George Milton. Migrant ranch hands during the Depression, they come to the Salinas Valley looking for work. They had to flee the area around Mt. Shasta because Lennie got them into serious trouble. Lennie doesn't know his own strength.
They do backbreaking work on a ranch and dream of their own place, where they live "off the fatta' the lan'," free from bosses, and where Lennie can be safe from harming others.
Steinbeck originally called his 1937 novella Something That Happened (which would rank it among the world's vaguest titles). He changed his mind when reading a poem by Robert Burns, "To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough."
While tilling his field, a farmer accidentally kills a mouse. In the second to last stanza, the farmer draws a moral from his mistake: "The best laid schemes o' mice and men/Gang aft agley."
The entire stanza (translated from Burns' Scottish dialect) reads: "But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid plans of mice and men, Often go awry (or astray), And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!"
The stanza's a pretty fair reading of the novella. Lennie fits in as the farmer; the mouse, the innocent things he destroys (rabbits, etc.); and the plans mirror Lennie and George's thwarted dreams.
Burns' final stanza adds even more.
Compared to the farmer, the mouse is lucky. It lives only in the present, while the farmer sees the past and future. "But oh! I backward cast my eye On prospects dreary And forward though I cannot see I guess and fear."
The farmer must live on with memories and consequences. As several commentators have pointed out, so must George. Lennie lived in the present. George is cursed to remember what he had to do for the rest of his life.
New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 B State Street, Carlsbad. Playing through November 20; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For directions see Theater Listing. 760-433-4345.