Remains an Emotional Roller Coaster Ride After 80 Years on Stage
TR Robertson …. The second play of North Coast Rep’s 36th Season is the 1937 classic, “Of Mice and Men”, by John Steinbeck, and just like the first performance at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, audiences are taken through an emotional roller coaster ride leaving everyone drained by the end of the play. Director Richard Baird has assembled a stellar cast for this memorable performance that still resonates through the test of time.
The 1937 novella pre-dates Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards, but would have most certainly won in each category had they existed then. The 1938 version of the play from the novella did win the New York Drama Critics Circle Best Play Award. The play would run on Broadway for 207 performances with Broderick Crawford playing Lennie and Wallace Ford playing George. When the play moved to Los Angeles, Lon Chaney Jr. would take on the role of Lennie.
Most every person who has attended a public high school has read the novella, Of Mice and Men, usually in their freshman or sophomore year. The story of two mismatched friends, during the Depression years of the 1930’s in California’s farmland, searching for work and living a dream of someday finding a way out of their situation while trying to stay one step ahead of trouble, has remained an iconic tale to this day. The kind hearted, but mentally challenged, Lennie tugs at our heart strings. The gruff, but tender, George, who always tries to help Lennie get along and understand the dismal world they live in, wins our respect in how he handles Lennie, even at the end. The arrogant Curley angers us and his head-in-the-clouds wife frustrates us as she always seems to appear when and where she shouldn’t be. Old Candy always has our sympathy as does the stable hand Crooks. And then there’s Slim, who we always wish would do more to help the situation, but he never does. These are the central characters of “Of Mice and Men”, a story of friendship, jealousy, loneliness, dreams, unfulfilled aspirations, racial disparity and a picture of a life from a time long ago in the economic struggles of California.
Photos by Aaron Rumley
To portray these characters, Artistic Director David Ellenstein and Director Richard Baird have put together a talented cast that perfectly fits the profile for each of the people in Steinbeck’s play. Cast as George is Jacob Sidney, appearing at NC Rep for the first time. He is an accomplished performer who shows both the “hard core” side of George in dealing with Lennie and the sensitive side when needed. Lennie is played by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, having appeared in several NC Rep productions and a number of Off-Broadway productions. The role of Lennie is difficult. Each actor and the director, must decide just how much of a disability should be brought to the role, physically and mentally, of Lennie. Mongiardo-Cooper has captured what I think Steinbeck would like us to see as Lennie. At times he is somewhat stable, but most of the time he is child-like in his approach to life and occasionally emotionally lost.
Playing Curley, the hostile newly wed, is first time NC Rep Performer, Wallace Bruce. Bruce brings out the angry Curley’s personality and most are not sorry for the pain he experiences. Playing Curley’s wife is Sierra Jolene, having performed at NC Rep once before and has performed in a number of plays in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jolene brings just the right amount of “flozziness” to the role. She makes us feel for the character both sympathetically and we are frustrated that she will not play a positive role in what those around her are striving for.
Playing the black stable hand Crooks is Laurence Brown, a Craig Noel Theater Award winner and a NC Rep and Cygnet veteran. Candy is played by John Greenleaf, a NC Rep veteran as well as a vet of numerous other theatrical productions. Both Brown and Greenleaf are perfect representing the isolated, discriminated black man Crooks and the isolated, discriminated, aged, injured white man Candy. J. Stephen Brantley plays the compassionate Slim. Everyone always wants Slim to step up and do more – stop Carlson from shooting Candy’s dog, stop Curley when he first starts hitting Lennie, stop George from his unthinkable ending for Lennie and give them a chance to get away. But, Slim always stops just short, and Brantley brings this part of Slim out.
Rounding out the cast is Justin Lang as Whit, making his NC Rep debut, Max Macke as Carlson, one of the bunk hands we least like. Macke is convincing as the pushy, abrasive Carlson. Returning to NC Rep is Ted Barton as the Boss, a no non-sense man, who has always seems to have no idea what is going on around him.
Time honored themes, memorable characters, classic lines (Such as: “I could live so easy without you”, “Don’t go no place you ain’t wanted”, “I shouldn’t of let a stranger shoot my dog” and “We gonna live off the fat of the land George”), and a small glimpse of life from a time long ago are the cornerstones of the play. Director Richard Baird, in his Director’s Notes from the program, provided a bit of trivia many did not know. The original title of Steinbeck’s novella was to be “Something That Happened”, but this was changed to the title we know today when Steinbeck read Robert Burns’ 1786 poem, “To a Mouse”. The poem contained the line, “The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley” and Steinbeck felt this describe what Lennie and George would go through.
The Design Team for “Of Mice and Men” includes Resident Scenic Designer Marty Burnett, Lighting Designer Matthew Novotny, Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni, Prop Designer Andrea Gutierrez and for this production, Candy’s Dog is played by Sonny, owners Fran and Dan Morilak.
The play will run until November 12. Tickets are available at 858-481-1055 or go to www.northcoastrep.org. Ticket prices range from $49 to $56 and $20 rush tickets half an hour before performance can be purchase if seats are available. NC Rep is located at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr. in Solana Beach. December at NC Rep will begin with Improv Theatre’s “Dicken’s Unscripted” beginning December 8th. The next major production for NC Rep is the San Diego Premiere of “Around the World in Eighty Days” beginning January 10th.