SATE Brings Us A Polished, Powerful Production Of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice And Men”

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Michael Cassidy Flynn, Adam Flores and Carl Overly, Jr. in SATE’s “Of Mice And Men.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Non-traditional casting brings a new look to the classic John Steinbeck play, “Of Mice And Men” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. A powerfully acted piece, the tale of loneliness and isolation in depression era California couldn’t be more poignant and relevant. For the most part the production works but could have had more impact with a bit of a re-write in one particular scene and a more defined “gender bending” casting choice.

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Natasha Toro, Carl Overly, Jr., Adam Flores, Courtney Bailey Parker and Omega Jones in “Of Mice And Men” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

George and Lennie have been buddies since their youth and George has found it necessary to protect the slow witted Lennie as they work one migrant farm after another to raise enough money to build their dream of their own farm. As they prepare to start another season of harvest, they run into an unusual bunch of ranch hands who have diverse reactions to their closeness. George continues to tell Lennie to stay quiet as he has a tendency to babble incoherently at times and has a penchant for soft, furry animals and sometimes young women as well. The trouble is, he often “loves” them to death with his power.

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Jack Corey as Boss dresses down Adam Flores as George as Lennie (Carl Overly, Jr.) looks on in SATE’s “Of Mice And Men.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Carl Overly, Jr. is a burly actor who has amazed us in the past but Lennie has become his signature piece. The combination of tenderness, simple mindedness and brute strength comes across so well as we sympathize with his plight but realize that it will only lead to his downfall. Adam Flores strikes a calm but, at times, on edge persona as George. His frustration with the plight of Lennie being the millstone around his neck becomes obvious early on and leads him to his final, desperate act. In this production, Mr. Flores plays George as a Mexican immigrant and Carl’s Lennie is black- quite a twist on traditional 1935 migrant workers but it is very believable.

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Carl Overly, Jr. as Lennie fidgets as Courtney Bailey Parker as Curly’s wife gets a little too close in “Of Mice And Men” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Jack Corey, absent from the stage for 32 years, makes a delightful return as the Boss. Only a few scenes, but he makes the most of them. Michael Cassidy Flynn does fine work as the detestable Curly who lords over his men with an iron fist. He spends most of his time looking after his philandering wife, played with a saucy demeanor by Courtney Bailey Parker. We’re not used to seeing Joe Hanrahan in a full cast play as he is such a master of the one-man show but he is steady as a rock in the role of Slim- the wise, philosophizing hand who takes a liking to George and Lennie.

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Omega Jones opens the second act as Crooks singing “House Of The Rising Sun” in the SATE production of “Of Mice And Men.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Shane Signorino and Ryan Lawson-Maeske are two other hands on the farm and then Natasha Toro plays one of the boys even though she obviously is not. They put long sideburns on her but she doesn’t change her voice inflection so she’s kind of an odd duck in this swirl of manly workers. I’m not sure if a statement is being made, but it doesn’t really work on any level. Also, Omega Jones plays the role that is usually the only black man in the cast of “Of Mice And Men.” He’s segregated to the stables instead of being allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse with the rest of the ranch hands. So when Lennie confronts him in his room, it seems unusual that his speech about basically, white privilege, is directed at the non-traditional casted Lennie. A nip and tuck of the script might have been called for here. However, Mr. Jones does a phenomenal job and offers an unusual highlight in the play when he opens the second act with a solo of “House Of The Rising Sun” to the accompaniment of Chris Ware on the guitar who offers play-long background music.

 

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Carl Overly, Jr. listens to Natasha Toro during a scene in SATE’s “Of Mice And Men.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Director Jacqueline Thompson has played “Of Mice And Men” true to form in both spirit and execution. It is a beautifully rendered piece of theatre that probably doesn’t get produced enough. What a powerful piece. Bess Moynihan’s set is a clever one with two three sided flats that swing for various locations and her lights enhance the production vividly. Liz Henning’s costumes are perfect for the era and Ellie Schwetye’s sound design is on the mark. Rachel Hanks also gets a nod as dramaturg as she brings distinct characters and voices to each of the ranch hands.

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Joe Hanrahan (foreground) reads to the rest of the ranch hands in the bunkhouse during “Of Mice And Men” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Steinbeck’s masterpieces- both the short story and the ensuing play- are played out against a background of desperation and loneliness. It is a moving piece of theatre and SATE has given it a wonderful life of it’s own. “Of Mice And Men” plays at the Chapel through November 18th. Give Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble a call at 314-827-5760 for tickets or more information.

 

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