The Acting Company launched its national tour at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, on October 17, with a solid production of John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN. This grim tale, which follows the fortunes of two, itinerant, California farm workers during the Great Depression, is a timely reminder of issues still painfully relevant in American society today. It's also familiar to just about everyone educated in this country. The stage version, also written by Steinbeck, premiered on Broadway in 1937 and has been played countless times since then. It has also been adapted for both film and television.
The challenge, therefore, is to build and maintain suspense, even though everyone in the audience knows what's coming. Ian Belknap, the director, wisely, avoided the temptation of trying to distinguish this production in some way and presented a simple, bare bones interpretation of this American classic. Using minimal props and sets (The Acting Company tours with its own scenery, costumes etc.) and aided by skillful lighting, the cast of nine men and one woman offered an engaging and faithful rendition of this devastating story.
As you no doubt recall, George Milton and Lennie Small, who have traveled together for years, are an unlikely pair. Lennie (played by Christopher Michael McFarland) is big and strong, but, being mentally impaired, does not understand his own strength, or even the world - a small child in a powerful man's body. George (Joseph Midyett) is shrewd and motivated and, at the same time, fiercely devoted to his long-time friend.
Christopher Michael McFarland deserves special kudos for his excellent portrayal of the man-child, Lennie, creating a character that is both sympathetic and convincing. His child-like innocence makes Lennie quite unaware of the impact he has on others, both human and animal, let alone the consequences. It's this innocence that makes George's heart-rending decision – and final act – so harrowing.
George dreams of saving up enough money to buy their own ranch and 'live off the fat of the land.' His fanciful descriptions of their future life together, keep Lennie inspired with visions of independence. Joseph Midyett's portrayal of George is energetic and well rounded, giving full reign to his frustrations and, at times, impatience with his mentally challenged friend, as well as demonstrating intense loyalty and profound love.
Their dream edges closer to reality when they meet Candy, an old farmhand at their current workplace, who lost his hand in an accident and has some money set aside. The three decide to pool their earnings and fantasize about getting a place soon, maybe even in the next few months.
But trouble emerges in the form of Curley's Wife, the boss's new daughter-in-law, who has traded her imagined career in films for marriage to the obnoxious Curly. She is always to be found, provocatively dressed, hanging out with the guys. Megan Bartle, as Curley's Wife, is at once flirtatious and naïve, irritating and sympathetic. Her dreams, like all the others in this dark drama, are never fulfilled.
The Acting Company is a collection of highly talented, young actors, who specialize in taking professional theater to people and places around the country, with limited access to theatrical productions. Their performance of, 'OF MICE AND MEN' is an excellent introduction and faithful interpretation, of John Steinbeck's work.
The company heads to California (Palm Desert) on October 23rd. A detailed list of their appearances can be found at www.theactingcompany.org.
Photo Credit: Richard Termine