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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Of Mice and Men
By David Avery
Set in the late 1930s, the story involves George and Lenny taking work at a California ranch. In the process they meet several of the ranch hands, learn about the various peccadilloes of their co-workers, and make plans to start they're own place. Things don't go very smoothly. The story is rightly regarded the anti-parable of the American Dream.
The Secret Rose Theatre's production boldly touts the "Michael Chekhov Technique" employed by the cast and director, which involves using outward physicality to express an inward psychology. The emphasis is on imagination rather than personal experience. While this may lend itself to fully realized portrayals, in this instance it also isolates the characters from each other, and the audience from the story.
George (Alex Hyde-White) is emotionally the center of the play, and relates to Lenny as a child or a pet -- he comes across as slightly goofy with theatrical movements and voices. He does convey the sense of responsibility, and the lesson of Candy's dog, that leads him to his final act in the play. Lenny (Mike Rademaekers) is portrayed as being distinctly mentally challenged, but with less of the appreciation beauty than is needed for him to become sympathetic -- in this production he is just pathetic. It is a characterization that has more in common with Baby Huey than an accurate portrayal of Steinbeck's giant. He has a high pitched voice that by the end of the play gets a bit grating (no doubt part of this actor's Chekhov Method). The supporting character of Candy (Joe Allen Price) is suitable tragic, and emotionally present, but the actor tries to add an Irish accent to his character that noticeably slips through most of the play.
The other actors provide good support in the play, but also have problems with their "technique." Curly (G. Scott Brown) comes off as much too cowardly. Slim (Myron Natwick), arguably the other strong character in Steinbeck's book, is a bit miscast. While his moments with George are some of the better ones, I had a hard time believing that Curly thinks this person has designs on his wife and that Slim would beat Curly to a pulp if not left alone. (Michael Vaccaro will be replacing Myron Natwick as Slim for the remaining performances.) Carlson (Matt Franklin) has another accent that is from some undefined country, though I think it was supposed to be Swedish (my wife thought German). Crooks (Kirk Bradley) admirably conveys his sense of outrage at being excluded from the white ranch hands, and manages to hold on to his old southern field hand patois. Curly's Wife (Jennifer Breckel) gives one of the best performances in the play because her technique isn't so obtrusive -- she is simply a lonely girl who wants to be noticed, and to escape her loneliness. In the end, it's as though the audience is watching a group of characters that aren't in the same groove.
Lisa Dalton has some nice directorial touches. I especially liked the way the characters (and the audience) wait between their lines for the gunshot that signals the end of Candy's dog. It makes the sound that much more shocking when it finally comes. She doesn't sanitize the text either, retaining racial stereotypes and language. J. Kent Inasy's set is elegantly designed in both form and function, representing three distinct locations by employing a swinging effect that simulates barn doors. The cast does the scene changes in the semi-dark in full ranch hand gear, suggesting workers doing chores.
While professionally staged and acted, this production ultimately fails to engage the audience as a tragedy of crushed dreams. Steinbeck's words don't need to be covered with gimmicksbut allowed to tell their tale unadorned.
CurtainUp's Lizzie Loveridge reviewed a different production of Of Mice and Men in London -- for her thoughts, see this review.
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