Of Mice and Men, one of John Steinbeck’s great works, was originally written as a novella and potential play. Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s take on it is now running at The Chapel by. I suspect the novella isn’t taught much anymore in school – there have been arguments about vulgarity and offensive and racist language – so the story will be new to many people. Whether new or vaguely remembered, it’s definitely worth seeing.
It’s the Depression in the agricultural lands of California, and two farm worker drifters, George and Lenny, are en route to a new place where they’ll help with a barley harvest. George, played by Adam Flores, is obviously the decision-maker; his pal Lenny, Carl Overly, Jr., is a big man who’s developmentally delayed, and functions about the level of a preschooler. He understands that he’s slower than other adults and trusts George to make the decisions. George is a reliable guy, determined and smarter than he describes himself to others.
At the new ranch (it’s called a ranch in the script, although if they’re growing grain, we in the Midwest would refer to it as a farm), they arrive late, to the irritation of the boss, Jack Corey. They’re assigned to Slim’s crew. Slim is Joe Hanrahan, and he’s the senior member of the workers, the most trusted, and a decent guy. The boss’ son, Curley, Michael Cassidy Flynn, runs hot-headed and deeply protective of his new bride. Actually, “protective” is too polite a word. He’s watching her, Courtney Bailey Parker, as she slinks around the bunkhouse and barn, heavily perfumed and looking for conversation. And there’s conflict in other ways in the bunkhouse.
One of Steinbeck’s persistent themes is loneliness, and we surely see it here, with this collection of transients – the other ranch hands are mostly drifters, too. But there’s one thing that’s not so timeless, and indeed is fresh considering developments in western society. Late in a scene with Lenny, he and Curley’s wife, who has no name in the script, are both talking about their dreams, but not really to each other. Neither is listening, they’re literally talking to themselves. We learn that Curley’s not the guy his bride thought he was. She’s a kid from a small town with dreams of being in “the pictures”, as movies were called back then, says that she’s just looking for someone to talk. But is she, so to speak, “asking for it” with the sensual moves and meaningful looks? That’s an inflammatory phrase, to be sure. Steinbeck’s men are nuanced. This character isn’t.
There’s some splendid acting here. Overly’s Lennie is quite wonderful, fighting to contain himself and sometime succeeding, suddenly exploding into what seems to be very uncharacteristic temper. Flores is strong, playing off Overly, standing up to other ranch hands and dealing with the young woman. They’re a dynamic duo indeed. Parker, as the wife, may not, quite, sizzle, but she’s certainly emitting some smoke. Joe Hanrahan gives a lot of humanity to Slim, and a tip of the hat to Omega Jones, who plays Crooks, the African-American helper at the ranch.
Jacqueline Thompson directed, utilizing Chris Ware’s music direction carefully. The set and lighting are from Bess Moynihan, surprisingly beautiful given the ranch setting. Ellie Schwetye’s sound, in this notoriously difficult venue, worked very well indeed. Liz Henning’s costumes work well, particularly the headgear.
Fine work in an intimate space.
Of Mice and Men
through November 18
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis