For most small theater companies, the level
of acting necessary for John Steinbeck’s "Of Mice and Men"
would be prohibitive. But undaunted by the difficult text, the
2-year-old Charlie Pineapple Theatre Company has chosen this
drama for its fourth production.
Mark VanDerBeets both co-directs and plays a major role in the play, and even those who (like this reviewer) frown on this kind of doubling up, must admit he does a remarkable job in both capacities.
"Of Mice and Men" is a play about the universal need for companionship. George (VanDerBeets) is a ranch hand who takes care of the powerful but dim-witted Lenny (Robert McCarthy) as they move around California looking for work. While traveling, they concoct a dream about how they will one day settle down, farm and raise rabbits.
Lenny is particularly eager to help with the rabbits as he likes small, soft things. The problem is that Lenny’s strength and lack of intelligence lead more often than not to his killing the animals he loves. He has already gotten into trouble when he refused to let go of a woman’s velvety dress.
By the banks of the Salinas River, Charlie and Lenny find work on a ranch where they meet Candy (the excellent Steve Abbruscato), another lonely misfit who convinces himself he can share their dream. But as the line goes in Robert Burns’ poem, "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. And leave us naught but grief and pain."
The owner of the ranch has a belligerent son, Curley (Nicholas Kattor), who likes to pick on smaller guys when he can beat them, and bigger guys when they can beat him, so he can yell "foul." Curley has a wife (Sarah VanDerBeets) who is bored, aggrieved and frustrated. From the moment the two walk on stage (never together), it is apparent that Lenny’s fate is sealed.
With not much more than Steinbeck’s gripping script (Julio Montero gets the credit for sound and light design), the cast of "Mice and Men" manages to evoke the bunkhouse, the stable, the barn and the sandy banks of the river.
VanDerBeets as George is brutal, kind and practical. He is noble in his stoic resignation to his hard-luck life. The fact that he also directs McCarthy in a performance that is nothing less than stunning is all the more to his credit.
Of course, McCarthy’s performance is so natural that one suspects he may have needed very little direction. His rendition of the stutter and the stance of a grown man with the mind of a child is painfully believable. A few scenes were so perfect this reviewer wanted to stand up and applaud.
The supporting cast of cowboys - Mark Stone, James Kloiber, Jesse Shafer, Paul Young and Reginald Ferguson - is also noteworthy. These actors masterfully capture the West of the not-so-distant past when men lived and died with their boots on.
It is perhaps partly due to the contrast with the other performers and partly due to inexperience that Sarah VanDerBeets is so unconvincing as Curley’s wife. Although she is co-artistic director of the company and co-director of this production, she is primarily a dancer, and in this play, she is stepping into a role that is too big for her. Casting her for this important role was a mistake a young company cannot afford to make if it wants to be taken as seriously as Charlie Pineapple deserves to be.
However, given the promise of the Charlie Pineapple Theatre Company, most people should be willing to overlook one unfortunate slip. This is an up-and-coming company happy to tackle substantial work. We are eager to see what they will offer for their next project.
Charlie Pineapple Theatre Company’s
production "Of Mice and Men" runs through Dec. 19 and
Jan. 7-22, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8 pm, at 248B N.
Eighth St. at Roebling Street in Williamsburg. Tickets are $15.
For reservations, call (718) 907-0577 or visit www.charli