John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is big story. It deals with big themes and Spirit Fire Theatre has chosen to tell this large tale in the small space of the Joyce Doolittle Theatre at the Pumphouse Theatre. Steinbeck’s large story of two migrant workers who have big dreams works really well in this small space, director Paul Welch draws the best out of a talented cast with innovative stage design, and tells a powerful story.
Of Mice and Menis the story of George Milton (Chris Austman) and his companion Lennie (David Haysom). George has taken it upon himself to take care of Lennie, who has limited mental abilities. The way that Lennie deals with the world often lands both him and George in trouble and this has caused them to have to leave work in search of new employment. They get hired by ‘the boss’ (Jim Archibald) and learn a great deal about the guys from Candy (David LeReaney) including Curley (James R. Cowley) and his wife (Sasha Barry). They just recently got married and Curley thinks that she’s after all the men on the ranch. He struts around, the son of the boss and tries to intimidate everyone. Slim (Luigi Riscaldino) is down to earth and compassionate which contrasts with Carlson (Mike Beattie) who convinces Candy to let go of his old dog, (a live dog on stage). Whit (Blair Young) just seems to go along with what everyone else is doing and Crooks (Christopher Clare) is the black worker so he is treated differently from everyone else.
The story dives deep into the themes of friendship and loneliness. It examines the the things that stand in our way of our dreams. George has a dream of owning his own land and being his own boss, while Lennie just wants to be with George and be able to stroke soft things (like rabbits or puppies). Everyone cannot do what they want because of their economic predicaments. Welch looks at these themes and draws them out in the production. Haysom’s performance as Lennie is powerful as he illuminates the character’s struggles and limitations without going over the top. Barry does well as the only woman in the play, striking a balance between desperately lonely and sly. These performances stand out amongst the solid performances from Lereaney, Austman and Cowley.
Laryssa Yanchak’s fight direction is worth mentioning as the fist fight on stage is quick and realistic. The set design is innovative and flips around and changes. It allows the story to change locations easily and it’s quite amazing to witness. And having a dog on stage is a nice, compelling touch.
Spirit Fire Theatre has chosen quite a heavy play to put on as their second production. It is a rich and powerful production of a story that still has aspects that are applicable to our world today. It says something about compassion, mob mentality and empathy. It’s a large story, told in an intimate way and it’s enough to make you want to stop and listen.
Spirit Fire Theatre’s production: Of Mice and Men runs at the Joyce Doolittle Theatre at Pumphouse Theatre until December 12th. More information is available online.