“Tell Me Again About The Rabbits, George”

This afternoon we went out to the Repertory East Playhouse in Saugus to see the John Steinbeck classic “Of Mice and Men”. This was our second time seeing the play this year: we saw it back in May at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Surprisingly, the basic story hasn’t changed since that performance :-). “Of Mice and Men” tells the story of George and Lennie. George is the smarter member of the duo, making plans for a secure future for the two. He tries to do all the talking. His best friend Lennie is a gentle giant of a man, but obviously with a mental problem that makes him appear slow and stupid. Lennie loves to pet soft things: he loves to hug them and squeeze them, but sometimes he doesn’t know his own strength. When we meet these two, they are on their way to a job in Soledad CA to buck barley. We learn that Lennie has had trouble before grabbing a girl’s dress in Weed CA and they were run out of town, and that Lennie loves to pet mice, but they often are squeezed to death. These two eventually get to Soledad and the farm, and quickly become friends with most of the other workers, including Candy, an old swamper, and Crooks, a negro stablehand. Lennie even finds something soft to pet, and Slim, the foreman, gives him a new puppy to pet. But there’s trouble brewing when Curley’s wife keeps coming out to talk to the men. First Curley gets in a fight with Lennie, and Lennie injures Curley. Later Curley’s wife is found by the boss talking to Crooks, Candy, George and Lennie, and this leads to the ultimate ending, which I don’t want to spoil. Throughout this all, George is talking and talking about the days when he and Lennie can buy a small plot of land and grow their own food and be their own boss, and Lennie can tend to the rabbits. He talks about how important it is that they are there for each other, and how they watch out for each. As such, this play focuses on the nature of this relationship, the importance of hope, and the ultimate price of actions. It is a classic story, one that should be taught in every high school. Oh, that’s right, it is.

Unlike the Pasadena Playhouse version, which attempted to move the play to the Bracero era through accents and casting, Rep East kept it to the original era — the dustbowl and bindlestaff. As such, it seemed even more relevant, with the current economic crisis threatening so many jobs.

For the most part, the casting and acting was excellent (as we have come to expect from Rep East). Particularly strong were the lead actors: Tyler Brooks (George Milton) and Michael Bruce (Lennie Small). A number of the other supporting roles were also quite strong, in particular Daniel Sykes (Curley), Jarod Scott (Slim), and Tyrone Washington (Crooks). I was less impressed with the performance of Michael Levine (Candy), as it came off a bit-too-much like Gabby Hayes. I also felt the performance of Kerry Bishop (Curley’s Wife) was a bit weak — in particular, during her long monologue in the penultimate scene, I felt there needed to be more depth of emotion and conviction of character — what she did played a bit flat. Rounding out the cast were Ed Hill (The Boss), Michael Collins (Carlson), and Marlowe Weisman (Whit).

Turning to the technical side, RepEast (as usual) make the most of their small space. The set (scenic design by Jeff Hyde) was a simple rustic bunkhouse, lit very effectively by Tim Christianson. Tim also came up with an interesting lighting for the river. Sound design was by the always invisible Steven “Nanook” Burkholder, who did an excellent job with the creation of nature effects. Costumes were by Lynn McQuown and were reasonably period. The production was directed by Ovington Michael Owston (“O”, the artistic director of Rep East), assisted by Daniel Lench. Sarah Massey served as Stage Manager.

Of Mice and Mencontinues at Rep East until October 18.

In the program, Rep East announced their 2009 program, which is as follows: “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest”, “The Wedding Singer: The Musical”, “M*A*S*H”, and “Sherlock Holmes’ The Hound of the Baskervilles”. The 81 Series (for mature audiences) will be “Eve-olution”, “Fat Pig”, and “Beyond Therapy”

As for us, our next show is on Sunday October 12 (2pm), when we see “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at the Havok Theatre (Nick DeGruccio, Artistic Director). Two weekends after that we see “The King and I at Cabrillo Music Theatre (we’re looking forward to seeing youarebonfante after the show, as she is managing the production). Saturday November 1 @ 8pm brings “Blood Brothers – The Musical” at the Whitefire Theatre. The next weekend is open. On 11/8, we’re seeing “Into The Woods” at the Lyric Theatre in Hollywood The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. 11/21 brings “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson Still to be ticketed is “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale 10/8 — I’ll try for 11/9 @ 1pm). There is alsowith hopefully the last show of the RepEast season, “And Then There Were Noneon 11/28 which runs 11/14-12/13, which I’ll likely schedule for 11/28 or 11/30. Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.