I live in Norfolk, work in Virginia Beach, and just got my EZ Pass last week, so I haven’t explored much west of the Elizabeth River up to this point.
Leaving my job at 6pm and Thursday night for the 8pm Of Mice and Men show at Smithfield Little Theatre, I had no expectations or anticipations except a long and awkwardly timed drive.
The only place I’d previously been in Smithfield was a restaurant that served burgers with… ham and crab on top? Nothing says waterside pig farming quite like that combination. An even better reason to visit Smithfield, though, which I discovered tonight, is some really good community theatre.
Seating at SLT is interesting. The stage is on level with the first row of seats, and each row climbs steeply behind. I felt like I was in the nosebleeds in Row H, but it gave me a great view of the entire stage and their seriously impressive set. The moment the curtain opened, I found myself looking intently at the platform filling the (audience’s) right side of the stage on which the first scene would take place, wondering, “Is that really dirt?” Indeed, it was really dirt. And I’m pretty sure there was also really water on the far edge, too. And there was a light that I assume was built into the platform, hidden to the audience until it came on to simulate burning embers in the pile of sticks they formed over it. Serious props to director and designer Robert Cox and his set construction team. The other locations—the bunkhouse, Crooks’s room, and the barn—were also all built, furnished and dressed well.
Before I get any further, though, a quick synopsis: The story follows two men, George and Lennie, in California during the Great Depression. Lennie is strong but intellectually disabled, and relies on George’s guidance; the two are migrant field workers and hope to one day live off of a piece of land of their own. After trouble in the last town, they’ve come to a new ranch to work, but they face new obstacles: the boss’s son Curley who likes to pick fights, Curley’s new wife who seems hungry for another man’s company, and the struggle to maintain their privacy among the men they work with.
The acting was solid. I adored Collin Norman as Lennie and the way he pulled the audience into his character’s emotional journey—I felt a glow of joy wash over me as Lennie held his newborn puppy, even if he did have to take it right back to its mother. John Cauthen as George lacked some of the dynamics, but was likeable and relatable, and his fear and disappointment as things spiraled out of his control was palpable. Joe Petrolia’s Candy felt very authentic and lived in—no surprise, since he’s played the role before. Skylar Norman as Slim also deserves a nod—his character is mild and understated, but he feels like the one person who can really be trusted. And of course, Bobby, who plays Candy’s dog, deserves an honorable mention for being so incredibly well behaved onstage; I’m surprised there’s no mention of other roles in his bio because he’s a natural.
The costume design was appropriate, though the newness of some of those dark wash jeans made for some unconvincing bindlestiffs. That being said, since there’s no costume designer listed in the playbill, I suspect the actors were providing some pieces from their own wardrobes—pieces which they may not have wanted to distress more than necessary. Considering the price of jeans today, I can’t really blame them.
Some aspects of the play don’t age well—the blatant racism of the characters, for one thing. While it does later serve to emphasize why Crooks feels so isolated from the other farmhands, the brashness feels uncomfortable. And while I agree with Roy Chesson (the SLT President) on most of the commentary in his note to the audience, I wouldn’t say that “the corrupting power of women” is a theme, so much as is the frailty of willpower—which is certainly still relevant today.
I think I was surprised, overall, by just how relevant this play still seems today, as the characters fight against things that feel very real in the world of this millennial, at the very least: loneliness, discrimination, the futility of pursuing the American dream, and being stuck in a job that is never quite enough to pull you out of poverty.
On that delightful note, go check out Of Mice and Men while you still can. This pointed, poignant production is worth your attention.
Of Mice And Men runs thru this Sunday March 5 at Smithfield Little Theatre. Saturday 3/4 @ 8:00pm, Sunday 3/5 @ 2:30pm. Tix $18 adults, $10 children, and they’re selling fast! Get them here. (Be advised however the play contains violence, and it’s John Steinbeck so you know there’s gonna be some rough language too.) And let us know in the comments what thou thought of this American classic!