There are very few of us who are unfamiliar to the story Of Mice and Men. The classic novella by American Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck is a prevalent choice for high school English teachers all over the country. The gripping story surrounding two migrant farm workers and their struggle during the depression of the 1930s has stood the test of time for over three quarters of a century. Steinbeck’s award-winning play based on the first-rate novella recently closed in its second Broadway revival nearly 80 years after its début in 1937. Director John Coscia and the Providence Players shine in their current production of the melancholy story.
The opening scene we are treated with the dimly lit bank of the Salinas River, Lighting Designer Chip Gertzog creates the perfect atmosphere to transport the audience back in time to the depression era of the 1930s. Gertzog does double duty as the sound designer, adding delicate touches of running water to add to the ambiance.
As the light slowly come up, with the fire created on stage in perfect fashion, gleaming from the stage floor, we are treated with the first glimpses of the masterfully designed set by Director John Coscia. Coscia delicately adorns the river bank with bull rush plants and cattails, but the most superb piece of this setting is the real water built into the stage, unseen until the actors start using the water to wash it was perfectly build into the set. At the end of the first scene the lights are dimmed, all that can be seen is the face of the Lennie Small (Kyle Keene) lit stunningly in the firelight; it was breathtaking. The superb talent of Coscia and his team is fully realized once the bunkhouse and barn are revealed. The set was built with real wood finishes, flawlessly real and handsome. It immersed the audience in the time and setting of the scene, every detail was cared for from the barn tools adorning the walls, the hay bales staked high and the 1930s pin up calendar on the wall.
Not to be outdone by his meticulous designs, Coscia also assembles and enviable cast to play out the timeless tale. Leading the cast are Mike Donahue as George Mitchell and Kyle Keene as Lennie Small. Donahue does well as the hard working farm hand. He has moments of brilliance as he goes from brooding, cynical working man to fearless protector and compassionate care taker to his friend and companion, Lennie. I was particularly enthralled by his dream like storytelling to the childlike, Lennie. Keene is equally spell-bounding as the gentle giant, Lenny Small. Keene is perfectly cast as the caring yet clumsy mentally challenged man. His wide eyes stares as he dreams about his future and “living on the fat of the land” that he plans to purchase with George are very authentic and flawlessly constructed. The pair interact well, it was a pleasure to watch them throughout the show.
Joining the pair in their quest for a new life is the endearing one-handed Candy (David James). James delivers a powerful performance as he is forced to get rid of his dog, played by an adorable dog named Pagen. James takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions, he evokes a raw sense of compassion and had me rooting for him as he had hopes of a new life in his grasp. Equally outstanding as the dignified and practical jerkline skinner is Ian Wade as Slim. Wade presents the perfect picture of the classic western man, as he prevails over the brood of rowdy farmworkers with a level head, compassionately lending a hand in the very climatic final scenes.
The talented cast is rounded out by Mike Mattheisen as the stoic Boss, Mike Dempsey as the napoleon complex inflicted Curly, Julie Janson as the temptress Curly’s wife, Bobby Welsh and Craig Geoffrion as the farm workers, and Stephen Olbina as Crooks. All of the supporting cast members serve the play well. Olbina has a standout moment as he confronts Lennie who has come to visit him in his room in the barn as the only black farm hand, and his quarters are separated from the rest.
Providence Players of Fairfax’s Of Mice and Men is a superb production. I encourage anyone, especially if you have not had the chance to see the stage production of the show, to take a trip out to see it. The top-notch design and direction by John Coscia, his designers and team of actors, make this a ‘must-see’ impressive production.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Of Mice and Men plays through October 18, 2014 at the Providence Players of Fairfax performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 425-6782, or purchase them online.