John Steinbeck’s 1937 play Of Mice and Men, based on his 1937 novella of the same name, is presently being revived on Broadway for the second time. On April 16, 2014, Anna D. Shapiro’s production of this classic story of two displaced migrant workers during the Great Depression opened at the Longacre Theatre. This production has received a great deal of press, primarily because it stars James Franco, the ever-increasingly famous (with bouts of infamy) multi-hyphenate actor, writer, director, producer, author, teacher, and poet. He stars alongside Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, both also stars of the screen making their Broadway debuts. As such, it has been selling considerably well at the box office, averaging around 96% capacity with an average ticket price of $101.76. Therefore, though the production received mixed to positive reviews following its opening, this is unlikely to sway ticket-buyers who are more drawn by the star factor of the face on the marquis than by promises of quality.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times is by far New York’s most influential Broadway theatre critic. Producers flaunt positive quotes with his byline, and they live in fear of his negative responses to their shows. In an era where people are reading fewer newspapers than ever before, New York City has become a one-paper town, where Brantley rules the theatre section. James Franco, though new to the Broadway scene, has clearly picked up on the sensitivity of this one man’s opinion to his show’s fate, and in the fashion of any egomaniac on a quest for world domination, he decided to publicly flaunt his distaste for Brantley’s less than positive review. Of course, Franco’s medium of choice for this proclamation was none other than Instagram. (Lest we forget, this is the same place that Franco made an utter fool of himself two weeks ago for blatantly hitting on a Scottish 17 year-old whom he had met outside of the Of Mice and Men stage door.) After Brantley published a critical review of Franco’s stage demeanor and level of acting effort, Franco posted to Instagram a link to the positive Variety review, then commenting that Brantley is a “little bitch” whom the theatre community hates for good reason, as he is an “idiot”. Though he has since taken down this post, it only further illustrates Franco’s lack of grace and dangerously swollen ego.
Other reviewers were more positive in their reviews of the play. Variety, Time Out New York, NBC, and the Hollywood Reporter all praised the revival and Ms. Shapiro’s direction. The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, was more in line with Brantley. Charles McNulty reviewed Franco as being in “CliffsNotes mode,” which is not surprising as he is flying to L.A. to teach a class on his one day off, while also working on his innumerable other projects, when most other Broadway stars would be focused on their stage performance. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Franco’s success in merely dialing it in. However, it is more likely that the greater world will continue to swoon for his celebrity, excusing his madness and even finding it endearing, and allowing him to take credit for wild success when his biggest achievement seems to be just showing up. It is time we acknowledge that James Franco has become a brand. We generally look for a soul in our Broadway performers, and it seems Franco’s has long been buried by his ever-growing success.
Of Mice and Men is scheduled to run until July 27, 2014.