Theatre Downtown pulls off the classic ‘Of Mice and Men’

Right to left: Candy, George, Lennie, Curley’s wife, the boss, and Crooks.

Of Mice and Men” is a story about learning when to pick your battles and knowing when to put a dog down.

Enter Lennie and George. These are two fellas who have been “going together for a while,” a statement which gives Whit a chuckle later in the plot, and essentially means they travel from gig to gig.

With a head full of goals and a heart of guilt, George is motivated to take a stake in some land and plant his roots. Though George dreams of life without Lennie, I think the softy spurs him on.

George’s character is reminiscent of lone wolf, Roland, from Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series–except for his loud mouth, of course.

Upon settling in a bunk house off the farm near Salinas River, George jumps at the first chance to talk to someone who understands him. As much of a hard worker as Lennie can be, he is a little on the slow side.

In Act I, George takes Lennie’s source of comfort, a dead mouse, away and throws it into the trees. Lennie apologizes to George and says he’ll run off and live in a nearby cave if it’s George would want of him.
Lennie saunters off and tracks down said mouse and returns it to his pocket.

Throughout the play, George is faced with conflicts across the board. There’s man vs. self, man vs. man, but not a hint of his aversion to nature, save his hankering for owning a piece of it.

Ganging up on George, asking him where Lennie’s run off to.

The actor himself (Jeff Hole) had a few obstacles to overcome, having only two weeks to memorize his lines, while the rest of the cast had about three months to rehearse. He played his role well enough, though Lennie (Tim Bass) stole the stage.

Lennie is played by Tim Bass who took to adapting the mannerisms of his son to flesh out the role.

“When he gets frustrated he puts his hands on his head like that,” Bass describes the way Lennie rocks back and forth when under the scrutiny of his best friend and chaparone.

Training him like the bloodhound that he is, George teaches Lennie not to speak when he’s spoken to on this next job. Only to find out that everyone on the ranch wants a piece of Lennie’s mind.

But back to the play. The boss of the ranch takes Lennie and George in, with his farm hand Candy keeping an eye on it all. Candy’s a quiet gentlemen with a nose for adventure yet without the necessary, shall we say, youth one needs to succeed.

Aside from Slim (Dean Walkuski,) who takes a shine to George, the other workers on the ranch are suspicious of the two newest members of the group.

Curley is a prick who has a villainous red-headed vixen for a wife, Whit is a nit-wit who likes to get laid by the lousiest bar maids in town, and Lennie only does what he can, to get close to the wonders of women.

Curley’s character is played by Scott Browning, dressed up as a roided-raging version of Robert Rodriguez’s Dude from “Road Warriors” with a little bit of Fonz for flavor.

Fran Hilgenberg designed the costumes.

Cindy Sherden, stage manager to the Theater Downtown and a teacher at a local high school, said “It’s important to keep the classics alive.”

Carlson is convincing Candy to put his dog down, due to the stench and uselessness of such a creature, while Whit, Slim, and George listen in.

“So, if you mention you read this article and you want to see the show, you can get in for $10,” said Sherden.

Melissa Vasquez said the play was extremely well put together. She is a member of Scott’s troupe at Holy Land Experience off the Maitland ramp of I-4.

After a rousing argument aimed at Lennie, highlighting his more recent folly, George shares a bit of his foreshadowing nature with the audience when he speaks aside, allowing Lennie to become absorbed in eating his can of beans, fingers first.

He then tells Lennie to come back to this place by the river “at the first sign of trouble.”

And that’s exactly what becomes of our broad-shouldered lug of a character that is our lead character.

See, Lennie has a fetish for all things soft and silky, such as the fur of a mouse or the touch of a young girl’s hair.

Curley’s wife gives all men who cross her path “the eye,” as Candy puts it.

An untimely death of the lovely lady that is Curley’s wife… Lennie has a soft spot for silky red hair and a fetish for all things velvet… she shouldn’t have let Lennie touch her hair.

Lennie can’t quite catch her drift when she tries to cast her spell on him, so she tells him to stroke her locks. He gets wrapped up in the moment and snaps her neck.

Out of horror, or shame, or whichever feeling a man has when he takes the life of another, Lennie flees the scene and takes to the woods, waiting for George to come rescue him yet again.

Curley leads the entire cast out on a hunt for the guy who broke his hand and killed his wife.

And George puts him out of his misery, like misbehaved dog that he is, before anyone else gets the chance to.

Pamela Stone gives a great performance, with a twinge of the vulnerable hatred we see oozing out Marlene Diestrich in “The Devil is a Woman.”

As a ritual for getting into character, Stone said she curls her hair. “When I look in the mirror, I put on that face, that face that I imagine Natalie Wood put on for her roles.”

And though the galloping horses soundbite was a little warbled, Tom Larkin played a decent Carlson in the show. Roy Brown, light and design film major at Valencia, responded to cues right at the perfect moment.

I’ve heard John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men” is a tragedy, a real piece of work that after reading it, you feel like hiding in your room with the lights off sort of book.

The play reads more like a comedy, with a slight note of death that springs up on cue. I guess you could say the whole play is an allegory for a lonely life not worth living without someone to share it with.

Then again, sometimes killing off your friends and going it alone is the best way to solve the inner problems a man has with himself.

(Previously published in the Valencia Voice.)



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