Josh Peyton is George in Of Mice and Men. Check out what Josh has learned from his character.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when developing your character?
I would say the biggest challenge I faced when developing George was trying to find the reason why he continues to stick around with Lennie (Tony Schik). Lennie is a constant nuisance and a gigantic burden on George throughout the play. George even frequently tells himself and Lennie how easier life would be if he didn’t have Lennie constantly dragging him down. Lennie seems to cause George nothing but trouble and it’s always up to himself to get Lennie out of it. In order to survive, George is constantly hunting for jobs for both of them but Lennie can never focus enough to hold a job which causes George to lose his job as well. At first, when I read the character, I tried to interpret their bond as George keeping a promise. He mentions early on that he told Lennie’s aunt he would take care of Lennie after she died. Knowing that, I saw George as a man that always kept his word. He was a man who had a code and wasn’t about to go back on his promise he made. That simple explanation was not enough. George and Lennie aren’t related so he has no obligation whatsoever to care for him. In order for George to tolerate such an exhausting and troublesome individual such as Lennie during this time period (The Great Depression), there had to be something more. So the challenge I had each night in rehearsal was finding these tiny moments in every scene where some sparks of happiness or joy in their relationship. There needed to be a redeeming quality in their relationship that made this heartache worth it. In a scene where George just finished yelling at Lennie but then Lennie says something random to make George crack a little smile. It was little moments like these that Tony and I tried to create each night in rehearsal. I had to discover that no matter how much George complained about Lennie, there was something deep inside of him that truly needed Lennie to survive and kept him grounded. The character of Crooks says it best when he says, “A guy needs somebody… to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who it is long as he’s with you. I tell you a guy gets too lonely, he gets sick.”
In what ways can you relate to your character?
One of the main themes in this play is the struggle for the American Dream and the near impossibility of attaining it. George and Lennie are constantly discussing their hopes and dreams of living a different and better life only to have some obstacle come along and make them start from scratch all over again. I think nearly everyone can relate to that struggle today. A person who lives paycheck-to-paycheck can relate to this. A person paying off their student loans for decades can relate to this. A person who lives a comfortable life, but suddenly gets sick and doesn’t have insurance can relate to this. For George and Lennie, their dream is to one day own their own farm. George wants a piece of land he can call his own and Lennie wants to tend the rabbits. It may be a simple fantasy to them but it keeps them going. The odds, however, are overwhelmingly stacked against them and each day is a struggle to survive. For me and each person in the audience that sees the show, that struggle is very real. We all have dreams and we all have something in our life that’s holding us back from attaining those dreams. And for some people sadly, like George and Lennie, their dreams of paradise and freedom may all be for nothing.
What life lessons have you learned from your character?
I think the most important lesson I learned from George is that you cannot take anything for granted when it involves loved ones in your life. What may seem insignificant or even annoying to you now may just be the most meaningful aspect of your relationship and it will absolutely crush you once they are gone. If there is someone important in your life, you need to tell them and show them what they mean to you every day and really pay attention to how you speak to those you care about. George repeats to Lennie day after day what his life would be like if he didn’t have Lennie. George rants and raves about how easy he would have it. He talks about going to night clubs, bars and eating anywhere he wants just to show Lennie how much better life would be without him. Come the end of the play, however, when George realizes that that there is no more hope for Lennie, he realizes that what he was pining for was actually a pathetic and useless existence that he never really wanted in the first place. With Lennie by his side, George’s life had purpose. He may have been Lennie’s guardian and saved him from harm countless times, but it was Lennie who actually saved George’s soul.
What excites you most about this show?
I’m incredibly excited to take on this journey with this stellar cast, crew and director: Ablan Roblin. Every night for rehearsal, I walk into that room with some of the most talented people I have ever had the chance to be on stage with and I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work with them. This is also my first play (non-musical) that I have done in 10 years and I have missed it so much. My senior year of college was my last straight play. I’m also thrilled that we will be performing this show inside the Howard Drew Theater as well. It will be a more immersive experience in an intimate space which this show needs. I think it will make it easier to connect to the audience because they will be right there, like a foot away from me in some scenes.
What do you hope the audience will take away from this show?
This story is very familiar to many people, but I hope that our interpretation of this classic tale will seem fresh and new. It’s a bit suspenseful too. John Steinbeck’s words are beautiful and the characters and story he created is not something you want to get wrong. It’s a huge responsibility. To most people walking into this show, they probably know that it’s not exactly the most uplifting story. This certainly is not a feel-good comedy. But I hope the relationship of George and Lennie is something that the audience can latch onto. While ending on a tragic note, I hope they can take away the beauty behind George and Lennie’s companionship and apply that to their own family and friends. We never know when we will share our last moments with those we love. So be good to each other. Don’t hold grudges. And never take those you love for granted.