“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that.”
Hope is a powerful thing. It drives us, empowers us and reminds us that, when life gets hard, things will always get better. Though not the only theme in John Steinbeck’s classic work of fiction, hope is what drives the two protagonists, George and Lennie, to dream of a better life during America’s Great Depression.
George and Lennie are two migrant workers who recently acquired a job at a ranch in California. Both men are hard workers who dream of owning their own land together, and George tells Lennie that, if they can scrounge together enough money working, that their dream could soon become a reality.
The problem is Lennie. You see, Lennie has a mild mental disability that impairs his memory and his ability to think rationally. He is large man who is incredibly devoted to George, but just can’t seem to always make the right decision. Furthermore, he is obsessed with things that are soft to his touch. Early on, he picks up a dead mouse just so that he can stroke it in his pocket as he and George make their way to their new job on the ranch. Meanwhile, George constantly complains that he would be so much better off on his own, yet it’s very clear that both men do care for each other.
The reason it’s so clear isn’t just because of Steinbeck’s script, either. George and Lennie were brought to life by Steve Catron and Riley Bayer. They played off of each other extraordinarily well, and were able to interact with the rest of the cast in very real and believable ways. That being said, every character onstage gave a great performance; there weren’t any members of the cast that failed to honor their distinctive roles.
This is made even more impressive when you take into account how long each scene is. Through every conversation, every encounter and every emotional moment, I felt totally engrossed in what was happening onstage. For the duration of the production, I was on a ranch in California, watching these men fight for their seemingly unreachable dream.
And the set design truly brought the ranch to life. Hay covered the floor while rickety, wooden bunk beds reminded you of the harsh conditions that these men were exposed to nearly every day. Meanwhile, actors would oftentimes have conversations behind a particular scene as they played horseshoes or moved various props around the stage, cementing the feel of a busy ranch full of activity.
Then there were the sound effects coupled with some excellent lighting choices. Horses whinnying, river water flowing and crickets chirping in the night as the lights continuously dimmed to indicate the setting sun were excellent additions to the overall atmosphere. This was incredibly important, because there were a few key moments in the play that simply would not have worked if not for the incredible sound design.
There were times when a particular actor would pause and think, as if a thought just needed to occupy their mind for a few seconds. If done incorrectly, these moments can leave the audience in an awkward spot as they simply wait for the actor to finish their thought. However, having the ambience noise in the background allows the audience to really be engrossed by the atmosphere created by moments like these. It’s no longer about waiting for the actor to finish a thought; it’s about seeing what they see and hearing what they hear. When given this extra sense, the audience can really get into the mind of the character onstage. And thanks to the excellent sound effects and music choices, that’s exactly what happened.
Missouri Western’s production of “Of Mice and Men” was absolutely fantastic. Though the dialogue could be a bit hard to hear every once in a while, it did little to diminish the overall impact of such a wonderful performance. Kudos to everyone involved both onstage and behind the scenes. Missouri Western is no doubt starting off the new season with an incredibly powerful and unforgettable production.