Monday, April 10, 2023

Of Mice And Men—21TEN Theatre—SE Portland


“All the Lonely People…”

    Life In Arts Productions present John Steinbeck’s immortal classic drama, at what used to be the old Shoebox Theatre space (and Theatre Vertigo) at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  The production will run through April 22nd.  For more information, go to their website at or for tickets, or their email,

“…where do they all come from?”      That should be the story’s theme. All these characters are set-apart from the American Dream…awkwardly searching for meaning, friendship, and a reason to go forward…perhaps, not much different than today. Except now, we put our faith, not in Mankind, but in the cold god of Technology…shame on us!

    Steinbeck’s real claim to fame was, of course, The Grapes of Wrath, which was made into a very good film in the 40’s with Henry Fonda.  Later, Gary Sinise and John Malkovitch adapted a rawer stage version ofit.  They also did a good film version of, Of Mice and Men.  But my favorite was a 30’s film version with Burgess Meridith and Lon Chaney, Jr.  (Personally, my favorite book of his was, Travels With Charley, the story of his adventures around the country with his dog…as I’m a dog person).

    There has been some criticism of the author’s view of George (Benjamin Daniel Philip) and Lenny’s (Travis Schlegel) relationship, that George is taking advantage of Lenny’s strength, rather than finding help for his mental deficiencies, to get jobs.  In other words, George needs Lenny more than Lenny needs George.  You decide…

    They bounce from job to job in the fields of Northern California of more than a hundred years ago, seeking a stake so they can live out their American dream.  George is a quick, feisty fellow, looking for a fast buck without too much effort. And his supposed albatross, Lenny, is a burly man physically but more than a little light in the head, who just likes to pet soft things.  Together they find themselves on their next job, where the Boss (Chuck Weed) has been waiting for them to buck grain.

    They meet up with an old retainer, Candy (Ron K. Palmblad), who has a hand missing and a blind old dog.  There is also the stable buck, a black man with a crooked back, called Crooks (Jelani Kee).  We also meet the Boss’s surly son, Curley (Chloe Duckart) and his flirtatious wife (Bobbie Kaye Kupfner).

    They get assigned to Slim’s (Akitora Ishii) tea, who’s a decent fellow.  Among the other ranch hands are Carlson (Brandon Michael) and Whit (Steve Radley).  There is also a wandering mistral (Iris Evans), who underscores, with a guitar, some of the incidents in the play, as well as a few songs the cast sings to emphasize their feelings.  And the cast, as well, narrates parts of the book at times, to color the landscape of the play.

    The play has its own power, which must be seen to appreciate.  In addition to the music/songs, there is a stylized fight scene, snapped in photo-like s stances, which is brilliant.  The set (Kyra Sanford, designer) is sparse to accommodate the many settings of the scenes but works beautifully.  The cast is equally powerful with not a sour note among them.  One can capture the wandering looks in Lenny’s eyes; the restless spirit in George’s movements; the righteous indignation in Crooks demeanor; the hopeless bearing in Candy’s “dying of the light” demeanor; the longing in Curley’s wife’s sashaying; the volcanic rage instilled in Curley; and the quiet acceptance of Slims empty fate.

    There is no director credited, as they all seem to have a hand in it.  But I assume Philip, as Artistic Director, is the driving force.  This a new company on the Portland scene and, if this is any example of what is in store to the local artistic scene, we are in for a treat!  BRAVO!

    This is an intense play and may not be suited for everyone, as well as containing the “N” word.  Also, it may hold only about 50 folks so best get your tickets soon.  But I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



  1. You might want to spell check this review. And as to the debate, if Lenny didn't have George he would have been dead a long time ago. My opinion as a former Lenny.

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