Noroña and Espinosa Are Mexican-Rooted George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men

News   Noroña and Espinosa Are Mexican-Rooted George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men Pasadena Playhouse's new production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, beginning previews May 2, features a largely Latino cast — including David Noroña as George and Al Espinosa as Lennie — toiling in 1942 rather than the Depression.
David Noro
David Noro Photo by Nicole Rivelli

The change in period places the Salinas Valley-set play in the time of the Bracero Treaty between U.S. and Mexico, which allowed Mexican farm laborers to work in the fertile region. The classic tale of two friends who are laborers (and dreamers) will open May 9 in Pasadena, CA.

According to the troupe, Steinbeck's "powerful portrait of two men's quest for the American dream is given a provocative make-over" by award-winning director Paul Lazarus (Pasadena Playhouse's Camping With Henry and Tom and Biloxi Blues).

"I am pleased that the Playhouse is continuing a tradition of re-examining the great classics of American theatre literature with this fresh and dynamic approach to Steinbeck's great play," stated artistic director Sheldon Epps. "And I warmly welcome back to our theatre Paul Lazarus, who will lead a diverse company of actors, including many gifted Latino artists, in an exploration of this play that I know will give it freshness, theatrical vitality, and emotional resonance to events that are still quite sadly taking place right here in our state and throughout the country."

Lazarus stated, "When my good friend, Sheldon Epps, asked me to direct Of Mice and Men I have to confess that, at first, I was hesitant. The play was overly familiar to me and possibly to our audience. There were too many clear images from the movies, TV and high school literature classes — what would we be able to discover that was personal and new in 2008. But Sheldon gently prodded me to read the play again and look for a 'way in' to this American classic. I have always loved the moving story of Lennie and George's friendship — the ultimate odd couple. So I started doing a little research and stumbled across the Bracero Program.

"I'm embarrassed to say I'd never encountered this important piece of our history. A rare, collaborative effort between the U.S. and the Mexican governments, the Bracero Treaty brought thousands of skilled Mexican farm workers into California and specifically the Salinas River Valley starting in 1942. Steinbeck set his laborers in the same locale only five years earlier. The more I learned about Los Braceros, the more I began to see the play from a whole new angle. Photographs of the period opened my eyes to a very different George and Lennie. Of Mice and Men was suddenly a new text again with major contemporary resonance." The cast includes Joshua Bitton as Curley, Curtis C. as Crooks, Sol Castillo as Whit, Josh Clark (Broadway's Execution of Justice) as Boss, Madison Dunaway as Mae, Espinosa (Pasadena's Anna in the Tropics) as Lennie, Thomas Kopache (Broadway's Orpheus Descending) as Candy, Alex Mendoza as Slim, Gino Montesinos (Public Theater's The Merchant of Venice) as Carlson and Noroña (Broadway's Love! Valour! Compassion!) as George.

The creative team includes D. Martyn Bookwalter (scenic design), Rita Salazar-Ashford (costume design), Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz (lighting design), Bruno Louchouarn (original music and sound design), Susie Walsh (production stage manager) and Hethyr Verhoef (assistant stage manager).

Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena. Performances continue to May 28.

Of Mice and Men originally opened on Broadway in 1937 at the Music Box Theatre. The production was originally staged by George S. Kaufman.

For more information visit www.Pasadenaplayhouse.org.