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Christopher a standout in 'Of Mice and Men'

Posted: September 27, 2012 - 12:00am
Brandon Demery, left, Roblin Gray Davis, Kevin T. Bennett, and Jerry Demmert, right, rehearse John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" at Perseverance Theatre.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Brandon Demery, left, Roblin Gray Davis, Kevin T. Bennett, and Jerry Demmert, right, rehearse John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" at Perseverance Theatre.

Let’s get right to the point: Why go see Perseverance Theatre’s production of John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men? The Gary Sinise and John Malkovich movie based on the novel is terrific. The story is easy to experience just by reading the book which most of us did in school. Plus, it is a really sad story.

But the elements of this production -- lights, sound, costumes, the set, quality acting, and an amazing performance by Bostin Christopher as Lennie -- let us see and feel Steinbeck’s story more deeply than a movie or book can ever take us. Perseverance’s stage transforms from a riverside to a wooden bunkhouse to a barn complete with straw and the sounds of horses munching. Even the really old dog knows her lines and her blocking. “Of Mice and Men” at Perseverance Theatre is a work of art.

The play follows the novel as it begins with two itinerant California farm workers, George Milton and Lenny Small, camping near a river before showing up the next day to work on yet another farm. It’s the 1930s. Jobs are scarce. The men have traveled together for years, though George is short, smart and ambitious and Lenny is mentally challenged, a small child in a strong man’s body. The two dream of the day when they will have a place of their own where they can live off the fat of the land. Unrolling wool blankets, opening a can of beans to eat cold, laying down on the hard ground as night sounds fill the air and the fire flickers out, the actors almost instantly disappear into their roles. Lennie wants ketchup, but there is no ketchup and George lets Lennie know in his rough, loving way.

Actor Kevin Bennett creates a downtrodden, almost pessimistic George with just the right degree of edginess. It is easy to believe George means it when he tells Lennie he would never abandon him, even though Lennie has caused George a lot of trouble.

Christopher’s portrayal of Lennie is flawless. He physically and vocally presents this trusting, odd, not-very-smart man. His eyes can’t focus, his mouth sags open, his speech is uneven. Lennie is there, every second of the show.

When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, they meet Candy, a broken-down old ranch hand whose own companion, a beloved, elderly dog, becomes a matter of contention in the bunkhouse. Playgoers may recognize Anchorage actor Dick Reichman in the role of Candy as Scrooge from last year’s production of A Christmas Carol. Reichman does not over play this part, but finds the rhythms and notes, the pauses and punctuations, coming across as an intensely lonely man, forced to put down his best friend. He and the dog are truly partners on stage. Even the rope leash keeps us in the story.

Curley, the recently married, pugnacious son of the ranch boss, played by Roblin Davis, bursts into the bunkhouse and tries to pick a fight with Lennie. Davis’ cowboy-booted strut, with his chin out and nose up, captures cockiness perfectly. Curley’s new wife, a nameless and ill-omened young woman, tries to chat up the men just to have something to do. Alicia Skandijis’ presentation of Curley’s wife falls flat against the loud, boisterous, energy of rest of the cast. She did not come across as the temptress she needs to be, although perhaps this was by design.

Art Rotch, director of this show and artistic director of Perseverance, not only put together a superb cast, but he also wove together the artistry of a very talented production staff. The costumes designed by Valerie Snyder worked well, a blend of Western and farm, cowboy boots and work boots, denim and leather, blues and browns. The sound throughout was fabulous. Sound designer Erik Chadwell added crickets by the river, the sounds of horseshoes being played outside the bunkhouse, banjo and guitar music in between scenes, and even horses munching on hay during scenes in the barn. The story can stop with the wrong prop, but that does not happen. Crooks has a pile of bridles and harnesses to repair, George plays with a tattered old deck of cards, and even the dead puppy is believable.

Even if you already know the story, it is surprising how much more powerful it is on stage. I highly recommend this production.

• “Of Mice and Men” runs through Oct. 7 at Perseverance Theatre. For more, visit www.perseverancetheatre.org.

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