Of Mice and Men
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
The Belfry Stage at the Crown Theater
Through May 13
No American writer chronicled the unpleasant reality of the Depression era with more clarity and inventiveness than John Steinbeck. His gift for creating memorable characters underscores his best work, and this is no truer anywhere than in his 1937 novella about the ill-fated relationship between two itinerant migrant workers in Salinas Valley.
Like so many men of that time, George (Spencer Cantrell) and Lennie (Gregory Crafts), claw out a living as farm workers, moving from town to town and picking up any work they can find. George is personable and a smooth talker who can find work, and he provides Lennie with protection and guidance. Lennie, a hulking giant of a man, has the mind and emotions of a child; he’s a bundle of often dangerous feral instincts and compulsion. It’s an enigmatic bond driven by an unpleasant friction that’s unmistakable early on.
Forced to leave their last town because Lennie had attacked a young girl, they hire on as hands at a farm, but find trouble there as well. Soon after, Lennie gets into a brutal scrap with the boss’s pocket-sized, perpetually angry son Curley (Lee Pollero); meanwhile, Curley’s flirtatious wife (Amanda Rae Troisi), who constantly visits the bunkhouse seeking attention and company, adds fuel to an already volatile situation, which tragically upends Lennie and George’s momentary lives of shop talk, horse shoes, cards, and dreams of better things down the road.
At the heart of Steinbeck’s tale, of course, is Lennie and George’s relationship, and the alternatively complex and simple elements, both light and dark, that undergird it — but the portrayals here, particularly Crafts’, lack the requisite nuance. Other performances are spotty; the best turn is by Troisi, under Aaron Lyons’ uninspiring direction.
Ann Hurd delivers a functional assortment of props, while Shane Howard provides sensational, mood-inducing accompaniment on the slide guitar and harmonica.
The Belfry Stage Upstairs at the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood., Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through May 13.; (818) 849-4039 or www.theatreunleashed.org Running time: two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.