Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Of Mice and Men

Stop what you’re doing right now. Immediately go the phone and call the Woodland Opera House to get tickets for director Gil Sebastian’s production of John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men.” It will be the best gift you give yourself this month — or perhaps this year.

Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novella was first published in 1937 and was also presented on stage that year, a movie following in 1939. Over the many productions of this story, there have been many actors playing the roles of George and Lennie, two migrant field workers in California during the Depression, and many of them have been as good as John Ewing (George) and Jason Hammond (Lennie), but I suspect none have been better.

Ewing and Hammond have nailed the roles, Ewing the quick-witted man who has been Lennie’s guardian and protector for most of their lives. Though Lennie frustrates him, it is their mutual dream of having their own place where they can “live off the fat of the land” that keeps them both going.
Hammond’s program bio says he has wanted to play this role since he was in the eighth grade — and it’s easy to see why. He completely embodies the character. Lennie is a large, powerful man with the mind of a child. He loves soft things but has no concept of his strength. He lives for George’s story about their future life, which he asks him to repeat throughout the play, especially the part about tending to rabbits.

Hammond’s scene in the second act, where he knows he has “done something bad” is heartbreaking.
Ewing and Hammond are surrounded by an equally strong cast. Paul Fearn plays Candy, an aging ranch hand who has lost one hand in an accident and knows that his time on the ranch is limited. He begs George to let him be a part of the house dream.

Chad Fisk is Slim, the mule skinner, who seems the only good member of the crew. He and George become friends.

Curley (Patrick Jordan) is the boss’s son, a man with a quick temper who is fiercely jealous of anyone who looks at his bride (Jadi Galloway), identified only as “Curley’s wife.” Galloway’s character is already bored at the ranch and just wants someone to talk to, though she gives a seductive eye to everyone. Steinbeck considered her “not a person, she’s a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil — and a danger to Lennie.”

David Guria, Jr. has the small role of Crooks (named for the crook in his back), who must live in his own small house because he is not able to live with the white ranch hands. Guria’s Crooks is bitter and cynical, but realistic, yet is fond of Lennie.

Others in the cast are Steve Mackay as The Boss, Scott Reese as Carlson (who kills Candy’s dog because he is old and stinky), and John Haine as Whit.

It is a shame that musicals get large audiences while excellent plays like this one don’t. “Of Mice and Men” is definitely an outstanding production and should be seen by anyone who appreciates good theater.