Directed by award-winning actor, director, and designer Aaron Lyons, TU's Of Mice and Men centers around migrant workers George Milton and Lennie Small in Depression-era California as they make their escape from one farming job and search for another opportunity to earn their keep. Writer Steinbeck created a dynamic duo with the quick-witted, yet frustrated, George and the strong, yet sensitive, Lennie who has an intellectual disability, both of whom rely on one another for companionship to combat the loneliness and hardships of their situation while chasing the American Dream of someday owning their own land and being beholden to no one. Accepting work at a ranch, George and Lennie seem to fit into their new situation with little problem, finding solace with other farm workers who likewise dream of elevating themselves out of their current and isolated existence. Unfortunately, Lennie's inclination for soft things and his lack of awareness of his strength quickly become their undoing, as he unwittingly kills the ranch owner's daughter-in-law and forces George to confront what should become of his troubled companion.
Of Mice and Men is so often shared with readers and audiences due to its articulate ability to illustrate our shared experiences of struggle, hope, and loss, but where it excels is its message that social engagement and understanding are tantamount to our society's survival. Demonstrating the unique hardships of marginalized individuals, the story is a call to action to look outside of one's own experience with empathy and compassion for those who have different stories than ours and are in need of the same connection, equality, and kindness that we are. From Steinbeck in 1938: "In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love." Of Mice and Men's characters are all so desperate for connection that they reject the needs of others, instead projecting their fears and disappointments on those who know hardship all too well and are likewise in need of connection.
With Theatre Unleashed's production, Spencer Cantrell (It's a Wonderful Life) as George and Gregory Crafts (Managing Director, Theatre Unleashed) as Lennie deliver powerhouse performances that create the heart and soul of the show. Cantrell's George superbly depicts a man who cares deeply for his companion, yet suffers under the weight of his compassion fatigue. Likewise, Crafts' Lennie embraces the goodness of an individual who simply is unable to control his impulses at a time when mental health treatment was neither fully understood nor embraced by society. The duo's chemistry was truly infectious and heartwarming, and their compassion for one another drove the story to its heartbreaking conclusion. As a TU alum, Crafts is always stellar both on stage and in the directorial chair, and Cantrell - in his second TU performance - is one to watch, as his genuine and impeccable performances are simply incredible to witness. As with all TU productions, the collected ensemble continues to deliver unparalleled performances of the highest caliber, truly bringing together an unforgettable iteration of Steinbeck's classic tale that is not to be missed.
The show will run on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through May 13th at 8 p.m. at The Belfry Stage in North Hollywood. Tickets are $20 each and are available online or at the door. Patrons may also "Pay What You Want" for tickets with a $5 donation to Actors for Autism. Please note that the theatre is located upstairs, and it is not wheelchair accessible. Be sure to visit the Theatre Unleashed website for further details.
Photo credit: Lonni Silverman