Most of us had to read John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” at some point in school, whether we wanted to or not. Years later I revisited the book when it was it no longer a requirement, and I realized that the story was genius; it has the perfect story arc, the right balance of humor and sadness, and, most importantly, the characters that Steinbeck created pull you into their lives, and you can’t help but sympathize with their plight during The Depression.
Eclectic Theater brings “Of Mice and Men” to the stage in their current production showing now through July 12th. The small theater is an ideal setting because the seats are so physically close to the actors that it’s easy to get drawn into the story. By the time you’ve taken your seat, before the play even starts, you might start to feel like you’re going back in time. If so, you’ll have to give Reggie Miles credit.
While the audience members find their seats, Miles, an award-winning Folk/Blues songwriter, sets the ambiance for the performance with his strumming. He sits in the corner and his face is dimly lit from a small lamp with tiny beads dangling from it.
Miles pauses in between songs and explains that this style of music is called “Bottleneck Blues” and is characteristic of the type of music that was played in 1930s during the Depression. Talking about the initiation of the slide, he says that players “put something round and shiny on their various digits and started sliding them around on the necks of their guitars.”
As the lights dim and the first scene begins, George Milton, played by Michael Andrew Scott, and Lennie Small, played by Gavin Sakae McLean, appear on stage. From the first few lines that they exchange, the natural interplay between the two actors is instantly established.
Scott delivers an outstanding performance as George. He embodies George’s frustration impeccably, yelling at Lennie every chance he gets, and we watch as his anger waxes and wanes in each scene. One minute, George is tugging at his hair with both hands, yelling at Lennie to give him the dead mouse he has in his hand. The next, after seeing Lennie break down into tears and fall into a heap on the ground, he apologizes, admitting that he was mean and proceeds to tell the story of their utopian future together, working on their own farm and “living off the fat of the land.”
McLean’s performance as Lennie Small is equally as spectacular. On stage, he laughs with a big goofy grin and appeals to George’s softer side, letting us see the innocence at Lennie’s core. It’s the talk of the future, and the hope therein, which drives the story. Hope becomes the one thing that they cling to while they make their journey to Soledad to raise their stakes working at a ranch.
Tee Dennard, who plays Crooks, immediately establishes himself as the old, wise, black stable-hand who has been ostracized from the other ranch workers because of his race. The exchange between Dennard and McLean onstage is gripping.
Brad Walker plays the role of Curley, the Boss’s son. His wife, frequently referred to as ‘the tart,’ is played by Justine Rose Stillwell. Stillwell delivers a solid performance as a wife with ‘the eye.’ In between scenes, and right on cue, Miles plays her theme song, singing “Yeah she’s trouble / Trouble with a capital T / Yeah she’s trouble / Trouble for a man like me.” The lyrics heighten the intensity of the play and foreshadow the climactic scene that cripples all of the character’s hope about any kind of future.
After the performance came to an end, I walked outside and looked back at the little door on 10th Avenue that leads to the tiny ticket window right outside of the little theater—the perfect setting for this play. The director, Kim Deskin, has put together an intimate production that is replete with a talented cast and a compelling atmosphere, capturing the story of the two migrant field workers who are living off of each of other’s company and a little bit of hope.
Shell out twenty bucks for this one. You won’t regret it.
“Of Mice and Men” will be showing July 5, July 7, July 11, and July 12 at 8 pm.
Eclectic Theater-1214 10th Ave
$20 online, $25 at the door