Solid take on a classic tale

Solid take on a classic tale

By James Petrillo

In a world overflowing with supposed “classics” of literature, none stands the test of time quite like John Steinbeck's “Of Mice and Men.” In good economic times or bad, the tragic journey of Lennie and George speaks to generation after generation, with its themes of loneliness, desperation, letting go and moving on.

A new group called Come See the Play Company grasps the bigger moments of the Depression-era “Of Mice and Men” in an uneven but worthy staging at the Missing Piece Theatre in Burbank.

Director Scott Travers has crafted a strangely quiet but sporadically effective retelling where understatement has a power all its own.

George (Ronnie Gunter) and Lennie (Paulo De Sousa) arrive in Northern California during the 1930s to buck barley with a motley crew of other drifters desperately searching for income. Each character they meet is suffering through their own pain or loss while working long hours in the hot sun. Each hopes for their own piece of land to tend one day; very few ever get it.

Slim (Benjamin Corns) is a soft-spoken cowboy. Whit (Luke Royer) tells funny, fractured stories to the other workers. Carlson (David Preston) is a grumpy, irritable cuss. Crooks (Elvis Nolasco) gets disrespected daily because he's African American and badly handicapped in a place where hard work is his only measure of worth.

The farm's boss (William Goldman) recognizes that Lennie’s size and strength will serve him well despite a severe lack of smarts. The boss tells George they can stay and work as long as there's no trouble, which arrives immediately in the form of son Curley (Chase Green). With his flirty new bride (Mandy Brown) in tow, Curly is that familiar little guy with a big chip on his shoulder.

When George isn’t busy keeping Lennie and Curley away from each other, he pursues a secret plan with an old-timer on the farm named Candy (Anthony Branch). They plan to pool their money, buy a plot of land one day and live life on their own terms.

A wildly divergent cast with varying skill levels doesn't exactly gel, but many of them shine in individual moments. Chase Green constantly clenches his fists as Curley, a perpetually coiled ball of rage. Whether picking fights or jealously chasing his wife around, his simple take on the play's villain is nevertheless effective.

David Preston's Carlson looks like he just stepped out of a vintage western from decades ago, and sure enough, he's returning to the stage after a professional hiatus following some memorable movie roles.

Mandy Brown's underwhelming line readings are forgivable, seeing as her look is rather perfect to play the ultimate temptress of farm workers.

The extremely talented Elvis Nolasco makes the most of his few scenes as Crooks, balancing the play's shocking racism with a tender but intense portrayal. Crooks has the same dreams as the other men, but an unfairly longer distance to travel to achieve them.

Ronnie Gunter's measured line readings as George set the template for the entire company's subtle vibe, but it's Paulo De Sousa's flawless take on Lennie that will stay with you after the lights go suddenly black at the end and that famous gunshot rings out.

At its worst, “Of Mice and Men” is a casting director's dream, showcasing a plethora of talent crammed on one tiny stage. At its best, it's a tender reboot of an unfortunately timely classic, with lost souls scraping together barely enough money to get by in an increasing hostile and lonely country.

James Petrillo is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.


WHAT: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

WHERE: The Missing Piece Theatre, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank

WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 6

TICKETS: $20 (Discounts available for Facebook fans, seniors and groups)


Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World