“A delightful surprise that sneaks up on you”, is the best way to describe Haddonfield Plays and Players production of OF MICE AND MEN.
At the heart of it, OF MICE AND MEN is the story of George and Lennie, two transient farm workers who, being childhood friends, tag along together looking for work. George is the “smart one” who looks out for the duo, while Lennie is a big brute of a man who, because of mental challenges, has the mind of a young child. Lennie’s childlike demeanor, combined with his strength, often leads him to inadvertently do “bad things”. Yet, it is a beautiful dream which the two men share which keeps them motivated and moving on.
Early on in the production, I wondered if I would even be able to write a positive review. The opening scene with George and Lennie, was blocked awkwardly, with Lennie facing upstage for the first several minutes. I know that blocking in for a ¾ thrust stage is difficult because you must select which side to face. However, facing the one side without an audience is rarely the right choice. Also, while Michael Post’s portrayal of George was pretty solid, his soft-spoken manner was not always easy to hear. In a small black box theater that should not be an issue.
The second scene, which takes place in a bunkhouse, seemed to drag on at times. But I believe this was because one of the actors in that scene appeared shaky on his lines. The uncertainty caused all the timing to get out of whack. This was only the second night of the show so I’m sure that problem will be rectified by the time you see it. A few of the other characters, while done well, were hard to understand at times. A little more volume and attention to diction will easily solve that problem.
By now, you have assumed that this is a negative review. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. As I said, this production “sneaks up on you”.
Paul Brodo’s performance as Lennie was nothing short of brilliant! Lennie is often played in a very clichéd way, yet Brodo was so natural in the role that had his bio not listed many other difficult roles I might actually have begun to believe his mental challenges were real. It is worth the price of admission just to see such an incredibly realistic performance!
Craig Hutchings does a great job in the role of Slim. He is likable, believable, and brings out Slim’s warm, human side. Jack Shaw, as Candy, also did a nice job. Another notable performance was Jonathan Steadman as the stable boy Crooks. Steadman had a strong character and exhibited a great sense of timing. Again, he could have easily fallen into the stereotype for this role, but, instead played it very real.
Haddonfield Plays and Players production had me feeling I truly understood the story for the first time in my life. I understood the power and allure of dreams, Steinbeck’s value for self-determination, and the pet-like bond between George and Lennie. Beyond that though, it was not until the end of the show that I realized just how captivating of a production it was. As I was exiting the theater, I found myself looking at my watch for the very first time since I had arrived. I can’t remember the last time I was ever that completely absorbed by a show.
If you’ve heard of OF MICE AND MEN but have never seen the play or can’t remember the story from the book, this would be the best time ever to become acquainted with the show. If you’ve seen the show before, whether or not you liked the previous performances, do yourself a favor and check out this one. If you liked it before you will love this performance. If you hated it before you will likely emerge with a newfound appreciation for the show.
Haddonfield Plays and Players should be commended for this production. In fact, I hope director Glen Funkhouser ignores my negative comments. I think in this case, it was the lack of polish, that made the show feel more real. So short of the one actor learning his lines better and everyone else speaking louder, don’t touch a thing!
OF MICE AND MEN
by John Steinbeck
Directed by Glen Funkhouser
February 3 – 19, 2011
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 East Atlantic Avenue at Crows Woods
Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(NOTE: Visit their website for directions, DO NOT RELY ON GPS. It will get you lost. TRUST ME!)