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With memories of Cinnabar Theater’s award-winning production of Of Mice and Men still fresh in local theatregoers’ minds, the Raven Players tempt comparison with their production of the John Steinbeck classic now running at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg. I’ll cut to the chase. Director Jon Vissman stages a presentation that is often on par with, occasionally weaker than, and in a few instances superior to that aforementioned production. While it never quite maintains the emotional resonance that the more intimate staging allowed, it stands on its own.
Steinbeck’s tale of the travails of two itinerant farm laborers in search of the American Dream in Depression-era California has been a mainstay of stage, film and television since its publication in 1937, with Steinbeck himself adapting his novella for the stage. George and Lennie are iconic roles that are on most character actors’ short list of dream roles
Jeremy Boucher absolutely nails the role of George, with a palpable weariness and frustration with the cards he’s been dealt in life tinged with a sense of a deep-down realization that things will never get any better. Chris Schloemp’s Lennie, while lacking the imposing physical presence long associated with the role, ramps up the character’s child-like innocence which makes his fits of violence that much more unsettling. Schloemp’s work in Lennie’s penultimate scene was an occasion where this production did hit an emotionally resonant high.
The ensemble work is mixed, as one would expect in a cast with members of varying degrees of experience. Mike Cernokus exudes an appropriate level of malevolence as Curley without overstepping into the cartoonish. Jennifer Parsons-Pritchard’s take on Curley’s wife is somewhat restrained and less vixen-ish than most, an interesting choice seeing how many people find an undercurrent of misogyny in Steinbeck’s writing. Michael Mathis brings a good ol’ boy sensibility to Slim that occasionally seemed anachronistic, but whose humanity helps in offsetting some of the rougher hewn characters and situations. Nicholas Augusta does very well in his scenes as Crooks, the stable-hand.
The cavernous Raven Theater may not lend itself to intimacy, but it does allow for creative design opportunities. Set Designer Darius-Hamilton Smith and Light Designer Robin DeLuca, who did outstanding design work on the Raven Players’ A Streetcar Named Desire in 2013, team up again and deliver another interesting set of technical elements. Hamilton’s stark, minimalistic set design combined with DeLuca’s lighting lead to some striking visual moments via the use of color and silhouette.
The play’s conclusion is a prime example. Set, light, color and performers combine to create a stunning visual representation of Lennie’s impending doom. It was a bit disappointing that this visual was not supported by the action on stage, however, as the plays closing moments felt rushed and failed to reach the intended emotional crescendo. It was a bit of a letdown based on so much good work done up to that point, but the best laid plans…
Overall, the Raven Players’ Of Mice and Men is a fine production of an American classic and deserving of your consideration for an evening or afternoon of quality theatre.
Of Mice and Men
Presented by the Raven Players
through April 26
Thurs/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm
Raven Theater Healdsburg
115 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Photos by Ray Mabry