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Posts Tagged Steinbeck

Mina Kinukawa: Creating Steinbeck’s World

Set Designer Mina Kinukawa (center)
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was first performed at the Music Box Theatre in New York on November 23, 1937. It was first performed on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium Stage in 1998 as part of its Education Series. This season, Park Square’s Of Mice and Men is on the more intimate Boss Thrust Stage, necessitating a new set design. Set Designer Mina Kinukawa rose to the challenge of putting us into the play’s world: the agricultural Salinas Valley in Northern California. Specific scenes take place at the sandy bank of the Salinas River, the bunkhouse of a ranch, the room of a stable buck and one end of a barn.

Here is Mina to give us insights into her creative process:

 

Model of the bunkhouse

Previously, Of Mice and Men had been performed on the Proscenium Stage, but this season it moved to the Andy Boss Thrust Stage. What was your approach for set design to account for the change? 

From left to rt.: E.J Subkoviak as Lennie, Michael Paul Levine as George and Patrick O’Brien as Candy in Of Mice and Men
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

 

Since this was my first time designing Of Mice and Men for Park Square, I didn’t have to modify the old production. I went in knowing it was a thrust stage in almost a black box room. I really like designing for thrust stages to get close to the audience. And this production, I believe, benefits from having the actors/characters be where the audience can see and feel their emotions closer.

The voms (the corridors that “spew” people into the seating areas) and inner lobby allow for the creation of an environment that surrounds the audience. Will you be taking advantage of that? 

Director Annie Enneking and the actors did a wonderful job using the voms and the lobby space to convey distance. We set locations offstage (for example, where is the river, where is the road, etc.; locations that audience don’t see but the characters live in), and the actors run around and use the voms and lobby to create distance from the scene happening onstage.

Model of the set with tree

A tree is of particular significance on the set. Can you tell me about that? 

When researching location and historical background, I was drawn to the images of sycamores. It’s one of the first scenic elements that’s mentioned in the script, and it seemed to create an oasis in an arid landscape.

Left to right: E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie and Michael Paul Levin as George
(Photo by Petronella J. YtsmaP

At the same time, it’s almost foretelling the end of the journey that we will take with this play. Once I started designing the set, the tree took a strong place in the world that I was creating, and we all seemed to like to have it always “watching” the characters.

Model of the barn

 

 

 

 

 

Can you tell me about your journey to become a set designer?

I can say that it started in my early teen years. I was lucky to have had very good mentors who helped me with skills that I needed. I also learned to analyze plays and make them my own.

Jane Froiland as Curley’s wife and E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Once I graduated from undergrad, I knew I wanted to have some “real” experience before going to grad school and had an opportunity to work in a scene design studio, first as an intern before I was hired on. Then I got a scholarship to go to grad school and got my MFA. I was in Southern California so naturally started to have more chances to work in films and had a blast. It was not an easy environment, but I enjoyed it very much. Very similar to theatre, it’s all about the team of people you work with! Then life took me to Minnesota, and I have started to connect with theatres and meet and work with great theatre artists here.

Tickets and more information here 

Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side

In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Vincent Hannam plays the cruel and menacing Curley, the boss’ son at the ranch where migrant workers George and Lennie have just arrived. Upon their first encounter, George immediately sizes him up as a “son-of-a-bitch.” It’s an accurate assessment supported by the older ranch hand Candy’s description:

“. . . . Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s all a time pickin’ scraps with big guys. Kinda like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you–always scrappy?”

Curley (standing at table) picks a fight
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Curley’s insecurity is also evident in his controlling nature toward his new wife. He treats her like a prized possession to show off as a testimony of his power and masculinity. She’s forbidden to talk to the workers, but she does so behind his back anyway, which simply highlights his lack thereof.

Vincent Hannam (right) working on his fight scene with Director Annie Enneking in a dress rehearsal. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

 

Vincent himself lacks admiration for his character, describing Curley as “a punk and a brat, used to getting his own way” and “a bully.” To play Curley three-dimensionally, though, he needed to find even a shred of sympathy for him. To do so, Vincent built a backstory that explores Curley’s familial relationships. He asked questions, such as: In what way does Curley really care about his wife or his father? Why is his mother never mentioned? Did he grow up without one? How might that have impacted his relationship with his father? Did his father give him the attention that he needed?

Curley (center) enters the bunkhouse
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

Despite being the mean antagonist in Of Mice and Men, Vincent is having a blast on the set. He basically gets to play cowboy, wearing Western boots and a hat and getting into fights.

An angry, injured Curley
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

 

“It’s also a fun change of pace to show that villainous side,” admitted Vincent, who has played plenty of “good” characters throughout his career.

The friendly Vincent (right) in rehearsal with Avi Aharoni as Whit (left) and Jeromy Darling as Carlson (center).
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

 

 

 

“There’s nothing like being on stage, connecting with someone and doing a scene,” Vincent said of acting, but he is also a multi-talented theatre professional who directs, writes and teaches. Amongst his other skills are the ability to do Chewbacca and Godfather impressions and to whistle (but not simultaneously).

As my fellow Park Square blogger, I know Vincent as a lighthearted, easygoing individual. But I can’t wait to see him unveil his dark side as Curley in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bring it on!

Tickets and More Information

 

 

Jane Froiland Defines Her Role

 

In last season’s The Realistic Jones on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage, Jane Froiland had a tricky part as a fear-filled young woman named Pony Jones who could have simply come off as being overly fragile and spacey. Instead, Jane smartly mined Pony’s vulnerabilities to make her into a complex woman who was arguably the wisest character in the play.

The Realistic Joneses (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

From November 9 to December 16, Jane returns to the Boss Stage in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to portray Curley’s wife, a young woman married to the cruel and possessive son of a wealthy ranch owner. Just as with Pony, her character could be in danger of appearing two-dimensional, but you can once again bet that won’t happen under Jane’s watch.

Jane Froiland plays Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

 

In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife is perpetually defined by the men around her. She is without a name, always just called “Curley’s wife” as if he owns her. The men fault her for being a temptress, referring to her as “that bitch,” “a piece of jail bait,” “that goddamn tart” and “a tramp” because of the way she looks and dresses. Jane, however, humanizes her character and recognizes her predicament as indicative of the slut-shaming that’s still prevalent in our society.

“Curley’s wife is young and beautiful so seen as dangerous,” Jane said. “She’s isolated and lonely without anyone to talk to; she’s really just trying to be nice and friendly like she says. But whatever she says is never heard. I heard her, though, and I hope that other women and men hear her.”

Jane Froiland as Curley’s wife and E. J. Subkoviak as Lennie (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Jane is extremely aware that she’s the lone female in Of Mice and Men and particularly mindful of her impact on young people coming to see the student matinees.

“I feel the responsibility as a woman to portray women with great empathy and authenticity,” Jane continued. “If I can tell a story very well and authentically, then the audience members can see themselves in my character and perhaps feel understood.”

Tickets and more information HERE

 

NOTE: Be sure to also catch Jane’s performances in Park Square Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank on April 19, 22, 26 & 28, 2018.

“Of Mice and Men”: Putting Autism Into the Equation

Michael Paul Levin

Several years ago, Artistic Director Richard Cook saw a production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in Spain. It gave him new insight into Lennie, the big man-child whom migrant worker George takes under his wings, and ultimately led to the recasting of Michael Paul Levin as George in Park Square Theatre’s version of Of Mice and Men that has been performed intermittently since 1998.

Artistic Director Richard Cook

According to Richard, “Lennie in the Spanish production was clearly high on the autism spectrum. The actor portrayed the character as always in motion, swaying and shifting back and forth. He physicalized the role in such a big way as to make it obvious to us watching the show why George needed to protect Lennie.

When I returned from Spain, I wanted to revisit the show and do a fresh production. I reopened casting and re-auditioned all the roles. Michael had landed on my short list from the audition process. When I spent time reading with and talking to him, I knew he had the capacity to do great dramatic work. He was also raising a child with autism so living with a loved one who needs special attention–just like George with Lennie. I wondered if Michael would be interested in mining that territory and willing to invest in that point of view as a great way to explore why that relationship exists. Michael was brave and generous to say yes,”

Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak) and George (Michael Paul Levin) camp by the river for the evening
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What we witness on stage with each performance, as a result, is a deeply personal and honest portrayal of George that makes the poignant dynamic between George and Lennie that much more potent.

Michael reflected, “Richard wasn’t a director trying to shoehorn his own impressions into the play. It made a lot of sense going back to read the source and seeing how close it hit home. How Steinbeck describes Lennie and how he behaves suggests Steinbeck’s trying to describe autism without having the words for it.”

In the play, George refers to Lennie as “a crazy bastard” or “you crazy son-of-a-bitch.” We also learn about Lennie’s preoccupation with soft things and compulsion to repeatedly stroke them, such as his incessant petting of mice and puppies or a woman’s satiny skirt or hair.

George (Michael Paul Levin) demands that Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak) hand over a dead mouse
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Lennie isn’t retarded or stupid,” Michael continued. “Steinbeck uses words like ‘crazy’ to mean that Lennie has idiosyncratic behaviors.”

However, before the 1940s, the concept of autism was indeed associated with mental retardation and, in 1910, with schizophrenia by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who coined the word “autismus.” In 1943, Leo Kanner of the John Hopkins Hospital first used “autism” in its modern sense when he introduced the term “early infantile autism”; in 1944, Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital introduced the term “Asperger’s syndrome.” In 1949, the term “refrigerator mothers” was derived from a false theory that autism was caused by a cold mothering style that resulted in psychological harm to their children. In 1964, Bernard Rimland, the father of an autistic son, provided the first solid arguments of autism as a biological condition and founded the Autism Society of America to counter the Refrigerator Mother Theory.

Lennie (E. J. Subkoviak) and George (Michael Paul Levine) settle into the bunkhouse at the ranch where Candy (Patrick O’Brien) also works
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

It wasn’t until 1980 when autism was officially differentiated from childhood schizophrenia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Third Edition (DSM-III); 1987 when “autistic disorder” replaced “infantile autism” in the DSM-III-R, which finally provided a checklist for diagnosing autism; 1991 when schools began to identify and serve autistic children in special education; and 1994 when Asperger’s syndrome was added to the DSM-IV. In 2013, the DSM-V replaced all the prior jargon with the more general term of “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD).

“Autism awareness has come so far,” said Michael Paul Levin. In fact, he and his wife, Stacey Dinner-Levin, also had a hand in raising autism awareness in 2007 when Autistic License, Stacey’s autobiographical play about bringing up an autistic child, was produced by Illusion Theater. It starred Michael as their son Geordy. Autistic License was named one of the best plays of 2007 by the Pioneer Press.

“As a parent raising a child with autism, you’re often silenced, overlooked or misrepresented. Stacey’s play was an honest portrayal of what it’s like,” Michael said. “She suggested that I play our son. I did it because I couldn’t think of any other actor who could do it. It was very healing for my family to see what we went through and for friends and relatives to see what our lives were like.”

Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men will certainly tug at your heartstrings, but even more so from knowing how much of himself Michael has personally put into each performance.

 

Sources: projectautism.org/history-of-autism and en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism

Tickets and more information at HERE

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