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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 1, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 13
Of Mice and Men brings classic to the stage
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Of Mice and Men brings classic to the stage

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Of Mice and Men
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through April 10


Classic American plays like Of Mice and Men, being presented at Seattle Repertory Theatre now, serve two purposes: They are a kind of record of what life used to be like, and if they are great plays (as this one is), they remind us of universal emotions and issues that humans always have, no matter how ancient or modern.

Oftentimes, men and women in poverty are dispensable - used as interchangeable cogs in the machine of life. John Steinbeck's writing often focused on the 'little people' who had few choices and no recognition, except from others like them. Of Mice and Men introduces us to field hands who traveled solo, worked hard until payday, blew their stash, and then had to start all over again. But it was even harder for anyone who was a round peg trying to fit in a square hole.

Lenny is one such round peg. He is clearly mentally disabled. He barely remembers what he's told, and has a childlike innocence. However, his grown-man strength makes him a continuous danger, since he cannot understand how much stronger he is than many fragile objects around him. Though he loves little animals (particularly mice), he constantly kills them with his too-strong petting.

Somehow, Lenny gets a little lucky, and George takes on his care, keeping Lenny by his side, traveling with him and trying to keep him out of trouble. George instills a dream in Lenny that they can rise above their circumstances and get enough money together to buy a little place of their own and 'live off the fat of the land,' as Lenny loves to repeat. Even from the start of the play, we feel that they somehow are destined to fail.

Charles Leggett plays Lenny with an open face and a heart full of joy, sharing his delight in the simplest of moments. He brings truth to the role. Troy Fischnaller as George is less accessible and more guarded in his portrayal of the smart but needy character. While George is clearly smarter than Lenny, he is bound by important reasons of his own to Lenny. Here's hoping Fischnaller can help the audience feel that desperation a bit more during the run.

Director Jerry Manning has chosen a strong, talented ensemble to support them, with standout performances from Sean G. Griffin, Ray Tagavilla, and Elise Karolina Hunt, in particular. Griffin plays an old ranch hand who is crippled and afraid of being cast aside and left to die and wants to partner with George and Lenny in their dream. His motivations are clearly communicated and we all can feel the same fear of that dismal future. Tagavilla plays a hardened hand who keeps to himself but is ready for the tough jobs when they appear, such as killing an ailing dog or hunting down a dangerous man. Hunt is the sole female actor, the young unprepared wife of the son of the owner, who hates her life and longs to 'be in pitchers' and is as desperate as any of the men in her isolation.

A wonderful set by Jennifer Zeyl creates an immediate and believable location. Lighting by Robert J. Aguilar displays haunting shadows for the evening. Original music by Robertson Witmer is an outstanding addition to the aural composition of the production.

A directing choice for the beginning of the play, the setting of a river away from the main ranch makes an intriguing introduction. However, that same river is the climactic setting of the end of the play, and its distance from the audience at that point becomes a disappointment. If one could have been able to turn the entire set with a crank so the back moved to the front, it could have packed an unbelievable wallop. With that inability, the audience is let a bit too far off the hook.

Seattle Rep's Yes Project will bring hundreds of young people to the theater to experience this classic play, based on a classic novel. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Discuss your opinions at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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