Revivals of classic plays often mean the audience has seen several previous productions, as have the actors, so the demons of comparison and competition are at work, not always to the production's advantage. John Steinbeck's play, based on his novella, is basically a witness to the social conventions of the Depression, the disparity between workers and bosses, racial intolerance, hopelessness and alienation. And because it is a record of a particular time in history, as well as for its era-specific social criticism, innovation is at odds with the subject matter. Director Lisa Dalton is a well-known acting teacher and directing coach. She apparently cast the classic with actors who were either familiar with the Michael Chekhov Technique (psychological gesture, movement, atmosphere, concentration) or willing to work through an intensive immersion program. The result, in this production, is occlusion—or, to put it politely, constipation. Every actor becomes a "character" with a well-defined attitude that definitely goes to the bone (thank you, Michael Chekhov) but fails to find the rest of the ensemble in its sights.
The play is about the unique bond between George (a sturdy Alex Hyde-White) and Lennie (a mighty Mike Rademaekers), two itinerant laborers who stay together out of need and responsibility. Lennie is a mentally challenged gentle giant who has no sense of his own strength, and George has reluctantly become his protector and also his victim. In a world of alienated loners, the two maintain a vestige of hope in campfire dreams of a place of their own someday, where Lennie can pet all the soft furry things he wants without the two men being run out of town. Boss' (Ken Kerman) mean-spirited son, Curley (G. Scott Brown), and Curley's flirty wife (Jennifer Breckel) are the dream-spoilers. Joe Allen Price, Kirk Bradley, Myron Natwick, Matt Franklin, and Josh Polizzi complete the rather self-conscious ensemble.
Dalton's leisurely pacing doesn't work for the freight train drive of this classic, nor do the literal and bulky sets and frequent changes that require the actors to leave the moment and haul furniture between dramatic scenes. What happens is a play that seems musty and is a very long, cheek-changing sit.
"Of Mice and Men," presented by Fire Rose Productions at the Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. Jan. 14-Feb. 20. $18. (866) 811-4111.