Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck's story is centered on two ranch workers during the Great Depression. More of a character study than a heavy plot-driven tale, the story follows these two friends, migrant workers George and Lennie, who move from job to job throughout California. The two often talk of their dream of owning their own piece of land where they can be free and where the mentally disabled Lennie can tend to the rabbits. It is this talk that gets them through the challenges of the heavy physical workload and allows them to see past the boring drawbacks of their nomadic lives. However, while he is a kind-hearted "gentle giant," the large, hulking Lennie doesn't quite know his own strength and, while George constantly tries to protect him and calm his fears, trouble is brewing and their fight for survival tests the true bonds of their deep friendship.
Wade Moran and Tim Pittman deliver deep, nuanced portrayals of these two friends. The audience can realistically feel the bond they have with each other. Moran's portrayal of George comes across perfectly as an over protective big brother who is always looking out for his challenged friend. Moran naturally displays how George must find a way to deal with his frustration and weariness with Lennie's shortcomings, and we get a sense that he's been doing this for a very long time, which makes us respect George even more. Pittman is revelatory as Lennie. If you saw Pittman last season as Vince Lombardi in DST's Lombardi you will be amazed at his transformation into this loveable, but physically imposing man. Watching Pittman's portrayal of Lennie's struggle against things he doesn't understand is emotionally moving. It is a heartbreaking performance.
In the supporting cast, J. Kevin Tallent brings a downhearted loneliness to Candy, the older ranch hand who lost his hand in an accident and fears for his ability to get future work. Both his rich portrayal of this lost man and his monologue in the second act are exceptional. As Slim, Clay Westbrook brings a clear sense of compassion to George and Lennie's plight. Ryan Toro is appropriately feisty as the jealous Curley, while Ashley Miller, as Curley's sultry wife, has a nice moment in her scene with Lennie where both are speaking of their dreams.
Director Gary Zaro manages to not let the loneliness and sadness of these men overpower the strong bond of friendship that's at the core of the story. Paul Filan's set design is bare, though the multi-purpose set of wood with period prop pieces from Justin Heffner serves fairly well for both the interior and exterior scenes, including an abstract tree element that is a nice touch for the scenes set on a river bank. While the costume designs by Tamara Treat are period appropriate, in earth tones that tie in with both the characters and their working on the land, Toro's haircut seems too modern for the time period. Matt Stetler's lighting and sound design include bright moments for the ranch scenes and some dark, shadowy moments for the scenes set on the riverside.
Steinbeck's tale is full of heartache and is an ultimately sad story, and Desert Stages Theatre delivers a sensitive, somewhat understated production with well-balanced and emotionally moving performances. While this is a very small scale production it helps with the intimacy of the classic story. Grounded by three wonderful performances from Moran, Pittman, and Tallent, it is a story that still resonates today.
For more information on Of Mice and Men, which runs through October 25th, 2015, at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, call 480 483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.
Written by John Steinbeck
Cast: (in order of appearance)