Arena Stage’s “Of Mice and Men” overcomes the obstacle of telling a story that everyone has heard by maintaining suspense throughout. Director Liz Diamond creates conflict with a unique juxtaposition of complex human emotions.
Unfortunately, Diamond pays far too much attention to conflicts among supporting characters and distracts the audience from the central themes of the play.
“Of Mice and Men” tells the story of two men, George (Stephen Barker Turner) and Lennie (Jack Willis), who search the countryside for work as farmhands. The two jump from job to job constantly avoiding previous employers. They are forced on the run because of Lennie’s attraction to small, delicate things like mice, puppies and girls.
Lennie’s fascination gets him in trouble because once he touches something soft, like a woman’s dress, he can’t let go. Women often accuse Lennie of rape.
At the time of the play, George and Lennie get jobs at a large farm in northern California. George has had his fill of Lennie getting them fired from jobs and warns Lennie, as usual, to stay away from women and talk as little as possible. He wants to get away from the lowly life of a sharecropper and own his own farm.
The Arena Stage is designed so the audience surrounds the actors in stadium-like seating, looking down on the wooden planked stage. This stage’s minimalist scenery fits Lennie’s simple mind. Great acting highlights emotional elements of the play.
Candy, played by Terrier Currier, leads the onslaught of supporting actor power the audience is privy to with this play. The main theme of the play is disappointment, and Currier takes that single feeling and drowns himself in it, making every move spectacular and soul wrenching. Willis is adept at portraying the tragic, misunderstood Lennie.
George drags down the play. Turner’s acting is overzealous, and he is upstaged by Willis. With each line, he takes the audience farther from the pain and misery that underlies the American dream theme of the play.
According to the playbill, Author John Steinbeck called his novel “Of Mice and Men” a “play-novelette” because much of the dialogue had the possibility of standing on its own as a work of art. Most of the play’s dialogue reads straight from the book itself. The loaded lines and heart-stopping ending make this play a must see and a beautiful representation of honest emotions.