By Robert Simonson
03 Mar 2014
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Long a force in Chicago theatre, as a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, director Anna D. Shapiro smashed her way into the New York theatre scene with her volcanic production of the epic Tracy Letts family drama August: Osage County. (She had directed a few New York production before that 2007 staging, but August is the one that caught everyone's attention.) She has since kept the energy at a high level, serving up convulsive new works by Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherf**ker With the Hat) and Bruce Norris (Domesticated).
Now she's back with what could be viewed as a change of pace. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is her first Broadway revival and a quieter work than audiences are used to seeing from her. Not quiet, though, is the lead actor: James Franco, one of the most written-about film actors of his generation.
How did you get involved with this production?
Anna D. Shapiro: I got involved with the production when our producer, David Binder, reached out to me. I had been involved several years ago — with different producers — and was heartbroken when it fell apart at the last minute, so I was a bit hesitant to try again. But I just can't shake this play, so that, and David's commitment and excitement, convinced me to try again.
Did you join the project before or after Franco was cast?
ADS: I joined, this time, after James was cast. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was interviewing me. The funny thing about it is that James was literally the first person I spoke to the first time around. I don't even know if he remembers that conversation — it was four years ago, and he wasn't available — but I just adored him then and I adore him now. I'm glad he wanted to do this with me.
What has been your relationship to Steinbeck prior to this production? Are you a fan of his books? Had you seen any of the movies made of Of Mice and Men?
ADS: My relationship to Steinbeck started when I was in my early teens and I saw Of Mice and Men at Steppenwolf. Strangely — and I know it's not possible that I had read it before — but even then it felt so familiar to me, so inevitable. It's a story and a cast of characters that I think lives in the collective unconscious of Americans my age and a bit older. And now, as an adult, I've read him and been completely transported by his work. It's misleading when your way into Steinbeck is Of Mice and Men, which is so clean and contained. His novels are breathtaking in their scope, and I remember thinking, how could one man cover so much soaring literary ground and yet be able to write such a perfect, undeniable play? Pretty awe-inspiring.