When I returned home late on the night of March 3rd, hours after watching the senior-directed performance of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, my mind lingered on the innocent simplicity of Lennie Small. I could still hear his eager voice in the final scene – “I can see it, George. I can see it!” I found myself even re-reading Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse,” the poem from which Steinbeck’s play derives its title. That the show left such an impression on me is indicative of its success.
Set in the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men tells the story of two friends, George Milton and Lennie Small – the latter of whom has a mental disability and struggles to operate on his own without the supervision of George – who find work on a ranch and dream of saving up enough money to buy their own plot of land. Seamus Clair masterfully captured the essence of Lennie Small’s character: simple, gentle, lovable, but tragically helpless. Endearing and insistent, but also insecure and apologetic, Clair provided an image of a man trying his best to fit in but subtly aware of his own disability and its effect on others. His performance also highlighted Lennie’s dependence on George: every one of Lennie’s sentences seemed to hang in the air, waiting for George’s approval. Clair fostered a great sense of pity for his character, and I found myself sitting in silent agony while watching Lennie make mistake after mistake.
Owen Pickette, Clair’s foile, and the only Belmont Hill junior in the production, played the difficult role of George Milton. Pickette captivated the audience from the opening scene, deftly displaying George’s inner conflict, as his anger at having to clean up for Lennie’s mistakes competes with his sense of moral obligation to take care of Lennie. As Pickette related George’s dream to “live off the fat of the land” with Lennie to the audience, his character’s ambition was evident. Pickette’s finest moment came in the final scene, when he demonstrated Steinbeck’s beautiful use of “bookends” (a literary device in which the author begins and ends a story with the same or similar scenes or lines). In a scene nearly identical to the opening, George depicts the same dream – but this time with tears, not ambition, in his eyes, as he says goodbye to Lennie. With shaking hands and an unsteady voice, Pickette gave a powerful ending to the unsettling play.
Other moving performances included those from Bennett Rush (Candy), Scott Jackson (Slim), Sebastian Themelis (Curley), Mr. Patterson (Crooks), Emily Belina (Curley’s wife), Gus Lamb (Whit), Nicole Chung (The Boss), and, of course, Bella Ryan (Candy’s dog). Bennett Rush, with his flawless southern drawl, was born to play Candy, while Scott Jackson, with his calm temperament and soft-spoken wisdom, played a fantastic Slim. Mr. Patterson’s smooth portrayal of Crooks provided an excellent contrast to Sebastian Themelis’s fiery rendering of Curley. The play’s casting across the board was exceptional, and reflects the senior directors Peter Knowlton and Varun Shah’s impressive understanding for the character dynamics of the play. Having neither read nor seen Of Mice and Men prior to this performance, I feel lucky to have witnessed such an artful interpretation for my first show. Bravo!