Review: ‘Of Mice and Men’
Classic drama gets fine staging at Meadow Brook Theatre
George Milton and Lennie Small are in search of The American Dream.
But life in Depression-era America was difficult for itinerant workers. For a paltry sum, large numbers of migrant farmhands roamed America looking for work. It was a lonely existence – and jobs were scarce – but what drove men such as George and Lennie was the same dream that brought generations of immigrants to America’s shores: “a little house and a couple of acres” to call their own.
For these rough-and-tumble men, however, that dream was rarely realized.
At least that’s the lesson one walks away with after attending a riveting performance of John Steinbeck’s classic drama “Of Mice and Men” at Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester.
The longtime friends have made their way to Soledad, California to work on a ranch. Trouble, however, seems to follows them everywhere they go; Soledad will be no exception.
Although not an evil or malicious man, Lennie is a mentally-challenged giant who follows his immediate desires without understanding the ramifications. And when he gets scared, he lashes out with his brutish strength.
His direct opposite, George serves as Lennie’s protector: Where Lennie is impulsive, slow and has a short retention span, George is calculating, quit-witted and tries his best to help his friend understand the complexities of life.
Lennie naively believes George’s stories of finding a farm of their own to work; does George?
Problems ensue when the duo meet Curley, the ranch owner’s son. A short, cocky man who makes up for his inadequacies with his fists, Curley instantly dislikes the taller and powerfully built Lennie. He’s also extremely jealous; when he suspects his trampy wife has been cavorting with the hired help, he takes his anger out on Lennie – and receives an unexpected whooping.
However, a tragedy occurs when Lennie discovers Curley’s Wife hiding her valise in the bunkhouse. The result of that innocent encounter – or was it? – causes George to make a fateful decision.
Steinbeck’s script – and the novella upon which it is based – earned its designation as a classic because of its in-depth examination of issues that are as significant today as they were 70 years ago. Racial prejudice? Still with us. Alienation and loneliness? Still a problem. Searching for happiness? It’s never ending. And seductive wives? Always trouble! (Okay, strike that last oneÉ)
More importantly, Steinbeck layers his complicated characters with complexities that are not readily apparent early in the show. We watch as early facades are stripped away, revealing very human characters who are simply struggling to survive in a tough world that is seemingly against them.
And his carefully chosen dialogue is second to none.
Delivering Steinbeck’s words is a fine cast of actors under the direction of Dave Mowers.
Dennis E. North – who eerily channels a dramatic Michael J. Fox throughout the show – and Jeff Thomakos give open and honest portrayals as George and Lennie.
Also notable are Paul Hopper who plays aging ranch hand, Candy; James Bowen as Crooks, the black stable buck; and Lynnae Lehfeldt who gives Curley’s Wife some much appreciated depth.
Sets and lights can make or break a show, but rarely do they elicit such a strong vocal response from the audience as they do with this production. Both are exceptional, thanks to T. Andrew Aston (set design) and Brett Rominger (sound design). And don’t worry: There aren’t really any birds flying overhead throughout the performance!
“Of Mice and Men” Presented Wednesday through Sunday at Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester, through March 7. Tickets: $22 – $38. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com.
The Bottom Line: If it was the best laid scheme of Meadow Brook Theatre to present an emotionally riveting production, then they surely succeeded!
From around town
Stabenow keynote speaker at gala
United States Senator Debbie Stabenow will be the keynote speaker at Meadow Brook Theatre’s 1st Annual Black-tie Fundraising Gala and Silent Auction.
The event is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the beautiful Meadow Brook Hall on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester.
The theme of the evening suggests a speakeasy, with dinner, drinks, music, trinkets and cigars. A silent auction will feature items from many of the area’s finest merchants and entertainment venues.
Tickets to the event are $150 per person or $250 per couple – and each admission comes complete with a fictitious identity the bearer is asked to adopt for the evening.
For complete details or to reserve tickets, call MBT at 248-370-4991 or visit online at http://www.mbtheatre.com.
Roast Ron Milner for good cause
Want to have a few laughs while raising money for a good cause?
Then head over to the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History on March 21 to “Roast & Toast Ron Milner,” a benefit to raise funds for Detroit’s Plowshares Theatre Company.
The fun-filled evening will celebrate Milner’s career as an award-winning playwright, whose work includes “What the Wine Sellers Buy,” “Checkmates” and “Don’t Get God Started.” It will be co-hosted by WXYZ-TV’s Chuck Stokes and feature numerous friends and luminaries from the world of theater.
The event is open to the public. General admission tickets are $50 and $75; a $100 ticket includes dinner.
For complete information or to reserve tickets, call Plowshares Theatre at 313-872-0279.
BoarsHead starts 2004 with great news
With many – if not most – of the state’s arts organizations struggling these days to make ends meet, it’s nice report some positive financial news every once in a while.
Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater announced last week that it has received a $100,000 gift – the largest contribution the theater has ever received from an individual.
The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated, “BoarsHead is a vital part of the Greater Lansing community. For nearly 38 years BoarsHead has been with us to add joy to our lives. We should be proud to have a professional theater of such quality in our midst. It must be cherished and nurtured.”
A recent fund drive netted the group only $40,000, far less than what the theater usually generates during its annual campaign.
“This magnanimous gift is a key step toward strengthening BoarsHead financially,” commented Paul Shaheen, BoarsHead board chairperson. “If this one person believes in Boarshead so strongly, we are optimistic that other civic-minded people will have the same courage to step forward!”
The anonymous donor also issued a challenge to the community.
“I know I am not alone in feeling so passionately about BoarsHead, or in recognizing its importance to Michigan. I challenge the community to embrace BoarsHead Theater as I have!”
Second City moves to second city
As boosters of Downtown Detroit tout its revitalization in time for the 2006 Super Bowl, Detroit’s Second City announced it is pulling up stakes and heading to the northwest suburbs.
According to a recently published report in the Detroit Free Press, the troupe is planning to leave its decade-long home at the Hockeytown Caf this March and reopen sometime this spring at the site previously occupied by the Local Color Brewing Co. in Novi.
Rumors of the troupe’s dissatisfaction with its second-class status in the building that once held its name have been quietly circulating throughout the industry for the past several months.
One bright side, observers note, no longer will customers have to battle the crowds – and high parking prices – when the Tigers and Lions are in town; parking at the Novi location will be free!