There are not many of us out there who are not familiar with John Steinbeck's famous novel/play. We all know the "I want to pet the rabbits, George" line. When you are working with a play that is that well-known and liked then it can prove a little tricky to stage the play. Expectations build. For this cast, under the deft directorial hand of Terry Donald, it seemed as simple as can be. I'm not going to claim that things were perfect as there were some stumbling over lines, but nothing too serious. The entire cast was able to bring the era of the Great Depression to us in the year 2008.
George (Adam LeBlanc) and Lennie (Peter Vrana) are migrant workers who have come up against trouble once again in their previous job. Lennie is a child in a giant man's body who sometimes doesn't realize his own strength and without meaning to sometimes hurts or scares people. George has begrudgingly taken on the role of protector to Lennie. This causes him and Lennie to have to flee from the law on occasion.
The two men have found another job on a ranch in California and George is hoping that they can stay there long enough so they can save enough money to buy their own place. George has told Lennie the story often enough of the land and house they could buy that Lennie has committed it to memory, especially the part about him taking care of rabbits.
Once at their new job, George and Lennie just try to work hard and keep a low profile. This proves to be difficult with the boss's son, Curly (Christopher Moore), and his wife (Rebecca Croll) causing them all kinds of problems. Things start looking up for our duo with the one-handed Candy (Bill Fletcher) offers to put his several hundred dollars of saved up cash in with them to buy their own piece of land. But as life often goes when it starts looking up is when it usually goes horribly wrong. And it is no different for Lennie and George.
The forte of this play is the dialogue. It is so well written (oftentimes funny and even quite poignant in parts) that you are just pulled right in to the story. When a story is great it is timeless (this particular one is just over 70 years old) and can be told time and time again with people still being able to relate to it. "Of Mice and Men" speaks to us about friendship, loneliness, fear, hope, and doubt. All emotions every human has felt at one time or another.
The story is frighteningly reminiscent of what is occurring now with the American economy and though the play does not have any overt political tones to it there is still some tapping in going on. These two characters are so desperate to own their own land that they will work at any job in the hopes of making this dream come true. Today in the United States many are going through the same crisis of not having a fixed location (because of defaulting on their house payments) and traveling around looking for work. A new generation of migrant workers is being created.
The young cast put all their hearts and effort into bringing this story to life, so much so that most of the emotions while watching the play are palpable. You can't help but feel what they feel and that is good theatre. A standout for me was Peter Vrana as Lennie. He turned what could be portrayed as a one-dimensional character (basically a big dope) into one with many layers. He had the physicality of the character and his voice down perfectly. The precision and timing was bang on for the most part. And director Terry Donald is talented enough to realize that some of the most effective parts of the play are in the silences. We all cringe as we wait for the sound of the gunshot that means the death of Candy's old dog. Less is sometimes a whole lot more.
The story is simple but effective. It taps into the fact that we all have a dream and how hard it is at times to make those dreams come true. Our hearts soar when our two lonely guys seem like things are going to work out for them and are crushed when they don't. We dare to hope, there is hope building and then the rug is pulled out from under us. A wonderful night at the theatre examining the human condition.
Tickets: www.mtlte.com or (514) 515-9140
Location: Casgrain Theatre at John Abbott College, Ste. Anne-de-Bellevue
Photos by Shane Kelley