‘Of Mice and Men’
The Theatre Company at The University of Detroit Mercy in the Marygrove College Theatre, W. McNichols Rd. at Wyoming, Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through Oct. 15. Tickets: $15. For information: (313) 933-3270 or http://theatre.udmercy.edu.
One of the perks of this job for a long-timer like me is watching the development of up-and-coming thespians. I remember working with a young Paul Hopper way back in 1976 and being impressed even then by his enormous talent. And from the mid-1980s through the 1990s I watched Anita Barone, Amy Yasbeck, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Peckham, Jaime Moyer and a plethora of other youngsters grow from hopeful college kids to today’s seasoned pros.
It’s that sense of anticipation that greets me every time I review a show staged by The University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. Although it’s Curtain Calls’ policy not to review undergraduate theaters, an exception is made for The Theater Company because of its unique approach to theater training. Here, not only are students taught by a team of well-known, highly respected working professionals, they also appear on stage along side local veteran performers. As such, the students are allowed to succeed or fail just like they would in the real world.
And that’s just how they are reviewed: as working professionals. There are no free passes given to the student performers.
Which leads us to the opening show of the theater’s thirty-sixth season, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.
The play, based on the author’s novel first published in 1937, tells the story of two migrant workers in search of the American Dream. Set during the Great Depression, George Milton (played by Curt Green) and Lennie Small (Matthew R. Klug) find not only work on a California ranch, but trouble, as well – particularly because of Lennie’s formidable strength and slow mind.
It’s easy to see why educational theaters choose to stage this play. The story’s powerful characters and still-timely message are enticing. Its language, however, is outdated – which often leads to audience responses not intended by the playwright. (The phrase “blowin’ in our jack” elicited giggles all around me, for example.)
Even so, the play’s 10 actors succeeded quite well in establishing and maintaining the emotional context of the story on opening night.
As the smart and good-hearted George, Green had several small, but excellent “moments.” (He needs to enunciate clearly from beginning to end, however.)
Mitchell McMurren (Crooks) and David Kowalczyk (Curley) gave fine performances, and both the handsome Rusty Mewha (Slim) and the bearded Lew Sequin (Candy) seemed to come from Central Casting. (Sequin’s delivery started to become monotonous after a while, though.)
But it was Klug who best captured the complexities of his character. His final, touching moments in the play were especially effective.
Direction by Arthur Beer was generally spot-on, but I suspect he gritted his teeth a time or two, especially when several actors found themselves bunched up in Crook’s room in the second half. (They looked lost – what I could see of them.) And the show’s ending needs work. (Why? Because most in the audience didn’t know the show ended: The pace of the innovative, but ultimately unsuccessful curtain call looks like it’s yet another scene – until the dead characters walk in, that is.)