Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Of Mice and Men (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

In the last few months I've seen a pattern--a revival of American classics, those that speak to the issues of our specific times.  Something to do with the election, is my guess.  Well, my theory.

Credit: Lonni Silverman
Of Mice and Men retains its status as just such an American classic.  John Steinbeck's novel, adapted by himself for the stage, echoes our own times sure enough.  Taking place during grim days of the Great Depression, it follows two "bindlesticks" or hobos named George (Spenser Cantrell) and Lennie (Gregory Crafts)--opposites yet best friends in so many ways.  The latter is short, very smart, but uneducated.  Lennie, on the other hand, is huge and clearly mentally challenged.  He is in effect a very large, very strong child.  He can hurt people without meaning too.  Although kind and guileless, full of loyalty and simple good will, Lennie keeps killing the small animals he so loves to pet.  He seems doomed, pretty much from the start.

And he is.  In all the world he has only George as a protector. One man against a whole world.  We know, don't we, he won't be enough?

They make it to a new farm, run by a man we only know as Boss (Jim Blanchette) who seems surly but fair enough.  Before too long we meet others--Candy (David Caprita) who lost his hand in an accident, Slim (Jim Martyka) the natural leader of the men working there, Carlson (Matthew Clay) a farmhand with little or no human sympathy at all, Whit (Ross Shaw) a typical young ranch hand, and Crooks (Twon Pope) so-called for his crooked back who is the only black man present and so kept distinct.

Credit: Lonni Silverman
More to the point, we meet the Boss's son Curley (Lee Pollero) and his Wife (Amanda Rae Troisi).  Not really bad people.  But--not nice.  Just as pertinent, not happy.  Curley's Wife is lonely and looking for trouble/attention, while Curley himself has a bundle of issues he keeps using to lash out at the world.

Keep in mind amidst all this George and Lennie shine as a beacon of hope for several characters, because they have a plan and dream--the tiny farm of their own, with a few chickens and some alfalfa Lennie will feed to the rabbits.  Lennie looks forward to this with as much raw joy as a Saint might greet the face of Jesus.  In fact, we end up as enthusiastic as he as first Candy then Crooks join in on their plans.  It looks as if they might make it, might escape the drudgery and empty future of manual labor without end, without possibility, without hope.

But that isn't how it ends.  We know that going in.  Like a train wreck we simply cannot prevent, accidental events pile upon one another.  No one person's fault really, because even Curley isn't in the end a villain.  He's just vain, resentful and ignorant.  More, he's angry and lacks compassion.

Credit: Lonni Silverman
Sound like anyone you know?  Like--maybe everyone?  Sooner or later?  Maybe there lies the truth behind this kind of tragedy (and no, I don't just mean the play).  We so rarely make that effort to be better than we have been.  Carlson's not a monster, he just doesn't care much.  Wife isn't some kind of sociopath.  She's simply someone not-well-trained (or talented) to deal with much.  Curley himself is more blind than evil, his vision distorted by blood-tinted glasses.

Thus, George does what he has to, because this simple smart man is loyal and compassionate as well as braver than I think I could ever be.

Maybe that is what we should carry away from Of Mice and Men.  Let us try to be more like George, and thus make the world a far better place.

Let us be like George.

Kudos not only to the cast, but director Aaron Lyons, set designer Ann Hurd (the set really worked amazingly well--not least because it wasn't quite real) and of course the music composed/played live by Shane Howard.

Of Mice and Men plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm (No Saturday show April 15, special Monday performances at 8pm April 17 and 22 for pay-what-you-can) until May 13, 2017 at the Belfry Stage upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo Street (next to the Lutheran Church), North Hollywood CA 91602.

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