Birdcage Theatre tells Steinbeck’s classic story well
The Birdcage is keeping things simple with its production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. There is no use in trying to freshen up such a well-known and time-tested story, and director Priscilla Gonzalez wisely hands over the stage to actors Terry Bartlett and Jared Wilmarth and lets the famous characters of Lenny and George unfold their gritty story and unique relationship.
Bartlett’s Lenny is a seamless workshop in method acting. The naturally huge actor mimics the recognizable traits of a mentally challenged adult, with that added obsessive glint of his constant desire to have George rehash the story “about the rabbits” on the dream homestead that the pair have been tilting at for so long.
The heart of the production, however, is Wilmarth. He keeps the complexities of his emotions unfiltered, constantly swinging from hopeful to hopeless, tender to furious, calculating to humble, much as a man working toward his dreams of a simple, humble and shared life would if his hopes were constantly being cut down.
Steinbeck originally envisioned his story as a play, laying out the chapters in simple scenes of the bank of the Salinas River, the bunk house and the barn. These settings are crucial to the shifting tone of the story, from the hope and romance of being free to the lonely and dangerous life of the migrant worker. The simplicity of the set’s design—a muted backdrop painted with mountains and trees that pulled back to expose the mismatched patches of wood that pieced together the crummy bunkhouse—and the patched and re-patched work clothes (courtesy Alter Ego costumes), as well as the salty secondary characters that wore them (especially Herman Tuider as old man Candy), colored the scenes well.
The spell was broken on a couple of occasions, once when audience members walked in front of the stage (in front of a live scene!) and to a lesser degree by background music piped in to help during moody moments, disrupting more than helping.
The Birdcage’s latest production is a great way to experience this familiar but timeless story.