John Steinbeck wrote “Of Mice and Men,” what one critic referred to as his “play-novelette,” in 1937. It was made into the iconic film in 1939, losing none of its impact.
Steinbeck drew upon his experiences as an out-of-work wanderer during the years of the Great Depression to tell the story, as he did with others of his now classic tales of the era, such as “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Both of these great 20th-Century American novels have one thing in common – hope.
As playwright Michael Cristofer says in his play “The Shadow Box,” “It’s something to hope for. You have to have something. People need something to keep them going.”
This was so true of Steinbeck’s George Milton and Lennie Small, a gentle giant who belies his name. These two bindle-stiffs sojourn from job to job during the depth of our country’s time of need where little was to be found.
Their one saving grace is that they have each other. As the street-smart George often tells his slow-witted “cousin” Lennie, “You got me and I got you.” Neither is quite sure why the camaraderie is such as it is. George often refers to himself as being able to do anything he wanted if he was without Lennie and could lead a normal life; Lennie sheepishly concurs but revels in the fact that George never leaves the man/boy, who would surly perish without his guardian.
Their greatest dream is to have a small farm of their own. A place where they can raise a few chickens, perhaps a cow and have a garden for food and “live off the fat of the land;” a place where Lennie will be able to tend the rabbits.
Lennie thrives on simple pleasures, such as touching soft, furry things – many of us have the same fetish. However, Lennie doesn’t have the mental where-with-all to know what is allowed to be touched nor when to stop.
He has been known to keep a dead rodent in his pocket just to touch the silken fur. In their last job In Weed, California, when a girl let him touch her velvet dress, Lennie refused to let her pull it away and the girl screamed “rape.” The itinerate duo lit out of town, escaping by the preverbal skin of their teeth.
Thus, the pair is on their way to a new job where they are unknown and can begin to save their wages to realize their dream.
Once at the job-site, they encounter the Boss, who turns them over to Candy, a long time employee who lost his hand in a job-related accident so the Boss keeps him on with his beloved old dog to do clean-up work. The other farm hands are Slim, who is a muleskinner and like a foreman. Carlson and Whit are general workers. There is also Crooks, a well-read black man whose back was broken on the farm; because he is “black,” he has a room of his own, which no one enters. The rest of the cast includes Curley, the Boss’s recently married son with a Napoleon complex, and Curley’s Wife.
“Of Mice and Men” is exceedingly well directed by multi-talented Niclas Olson, who keeps true to the script and shows love for the story and compassion for the blight of the leads.
The story is played out on another excellent set by Blake R. York, who uses a fragmented, impressionist design which shows the wilds of the woods near the Salinas farmhouse, including a running stream which encompasses the front edge of the stage. With the help of fragmented walls, this metamorphs into the bunk house, the hay barn and various other areas on the farm.
Michele Graves does costumes, Olson also does the lighting design, Chris Serface does sound and Jeffery Weaver does props; Nena Curley is Stage manager, Betzy Miller is her assistant.
The cast and crew do the set changes very efficiently and with ease, which is an added credit to York’s execution of his design.
Olson’s cast is comprised of new to stage and highly experienced actors. All are well cast and do fine work.
Eric Cuestas-Thompson is The Boss. Cuestas-Thompson plays the part as a gruff, uncompromising employer only looking to get the work done with little interest in his men.
Alex Gust is Whit, the quiet member of the bunkhouse. This is only Gust’s second stage performance, but he holds his own in the part.
Alex Koerger is Carlson, an irritated farmhand who can’t stand Candy’s old dog who is nearly blind and smells like an old dog. Koerger is a villain as he takes away the only thing Candy owns and loves, thus his comfort. The actor plays the part unsympathetically.
Crystal makes her TLT debut as Candy’s Dog. A bit young for the part, Crystal does a believable job in the cross-gender role. She even snarls on cue.
Jack House is Crooks. House is quite good in the role of the knowledgeable black man who eventually welcomes his association with his white counterparts.
Derek Mesford is Curley. Mesford plays the role of the small-minded man with the inferiority complex, very well. The audience sees Curley enjoying his bullying of Lennie and almost applauds when he gets his comeuppance.
Jacob Tice is Slim. Tice, one of the better actors in the Puget Sound area, makes the role his own and shines doing so.
Margret Patobek is Curley’s Wife. A newcomer to TLT, Patobek does a good job of exploiting Curley’s Wife and shows her as the man-using tease she is. Her fate is obvious and well played.
Mason Quinn plays George as the long-suffering keeper of his partner that the years of enduring Lennie’s mishaps have made him. A bit gruff at times, he becomes tender when giving joy to his ward as Quinn explains their dream to his friend.
Roger Iverson is Candy, the sweet member of the bunkhouse who joins in the duo’s dream with noticeable eagerness and willingness to give his life’s savings in order to share the dream of “a place of their own.” Iverson makes Candy’s thoughts of retirement to a life of comparative ease palatable to the audience. The actor has developed a humble character with whom the audience is completely sympathetic.
Chris James is Lennie. James is perfect in the role of the mentally challenged giant who unknowingly causes the destruction of his dream. James maintains the character at all times. The British-born newcomer to theatre never lets even a hint of his British accent slip over into his haltingly spoken lines. James is just excellent in the role.
“Of Mice and Men” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through February 5 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is also a 7:30 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, February 2.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Of Mice and Men” is the story of love and camaraderie; of two men’s commitment to each other; of man’s perfect dream of a perfect life. It is the tale of George and Lennie who have dreamed the dream for years and have finally found it within their reach.
However, as the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
This is suffered by Steinbeck’s down-trodden pair and tugs at the heartstrings of the audience. Bring your own tissue, you’ll need it.