Alan Wilkie waited 30 years to direct “Of Mice and Men.”
Wilkie has been in the local theater business for a few decades. He’s worked as a freelance director for various local theaters, including Valley Center Stage (VCS) in North Bend.
“I usually direct musicals and comedies,” Wilkie said. “It’s rare I ever get to do dramas.”
Wilkie said he always loved John Steinbeck, the author of “Of Mice and Men,” and knew he wanted to do the production some day.
“I like the drama,” he said. “It’s so different from what I usually do, and so it’s a good stretch.”
As VCS was preparing its 2019-2020 season, the board of directors put out a call to local directors to pitch productions they would like see performed at VCS.
“I thought why not put in “Of Mice and Men”? — It’s an American classic,” Wilkie said. “I was excited when they chose me.”
“Of Mice and Men” will open VCS’s 17th season on Oct. 17.
According to VCS’s play description, “Of Mice and Men” centers on the unlikely friendship between two migrant workers weathering together the loneliness and hardships of the Great Depression. Lennie, a childlike man in a powerful body, and George, a man smaller in stature who protects and soothes his larger companion, travel from town to town hoping for work while dreaming and planning for the day they can buy their own land. A terrible accident leads to unintended consequences veering Lennie and George off their intended course despite the best laid plans.
“It’s a show about friendship and dreams,” Wilkie said. “It’s about people who want a better life… and people trying to connect with one another.”
Wilkie knew exactly who he wanted to cast as Lennie. Local actor and stuntman, John Williams Lynch has been a friend of Wilkie’s for longer than 20 years.
“I knew I was going to make him a Lennie someday,” Wilkie said. “He’s perfect for the role.”
Lynch laughed. “I don’t think I had much of a choice,” he said.
Lynch said portraying Lennie has been a stretch for him, as he is typically cast as the villain, a thug or a cop because of his large stature and deep voice.
“[Being Lennie] has allowed me to branch out and do something different,” Lynch said. “It’s a sympathetic role. He’s innocent…he has the mind of maybe a 5-year-old.”
Lynch said Lennie is a relatable character.
“I think everyone feels like they’re different from other people in some way. I am dyslexic and I struggled in school, and I know what it feels like to be different in a group of guys,” Lynch said. “Lennie is aware he’s different, but it doesn’t bother him, unlike most people… He’s completely devoid of any evil — he’s innocent.”
The production has proven to be a stretch for several of the other actors as well. Chris Clark stars as Curly, the villain in the story. With a background in high school and college theater, Clark said he was interested to be on stage again. An expected challenge for him, he said, was acting again and wondering if he was doing well. However, he said his main challenge was playing the role of a villain.
“Acting and learning, of course, has been the expected challenge,” he said. “Acting is a chance to learn more about yourself. You stretch and put yourself out there into a lot of unknowns…And diving deep into parts of your character.”
While there have been logistical challenges with this production, such as casting, Wilkie said he is excited to bring Steinbeck to the Valley.
“Steinbeck is worth seeing,” he said. “There’s a reason why he was so popular — he wrote honest stories with relatable, complex characters.”
Wilkie said he’s enjoyed working on this production because of the “family element” of VCS.
“It always feels like I’m coming home,” he said. “I love the cast, and we love being here.”
Clark mirrored Wilkie’s sentiment. “It feels great to connect to the community,” he said. “I feel the love from being part of this show.”
“Of Mice and Men” debuts at VCS Oct. 17 and runs through Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. For tickets, go online to http://valleycenterstage.org/.