by Lynn on May 4, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Unit 102 Actor’s Co. Toronto, Ont.

Written by John Steinbeck
Directed by David Lafontaine
Set by Adam Belanger
Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Cast: Adam Driscoll
Jim Gilbert
Miranda MacDougall
Brandon McKnight
Miles Meile
Marc Paci
Daniel Staseff
Brandon Thomas
Ryan Tilley
Thom Zimerle

John Steinbeck’s poem to loneliness is given a shimmering, detailed, heartbreaking production by the spunky Unit 102 Actor’s Co.

The Story. The play is about George and Lennie, two unlikely friends. George is strapping and capable. Lennie is a hulk of a man, simple-minded and dangerous when agitated. The two have known each other since childhood and George has taken care of Lennie since they went out on their own. They are itinerant ranch hands, jobbing out from ranch to ranch in California during the Great Depression. They had to leave their last job because Lennie lost control and terrified a young woman.

In their present jobs George and Lennie do grunt work along with the other ranch hands, with Lennie doing yeoman’s work because he’s so strong. George and Lennie plan on saving their money to buy a little place of their own. Lennie longs to raise rabbits and George humours him. The ranch hands live from pay cheque to pay cheque. They get paid and spend it in town at the local brothel. A few are misfits like George and Lennie. Candy only has the use of one hand, the other was mangled in an accident. He only has an old dog for company. He is sure he will be fired soon for not pulling his weight. Crooks is a black man who is doubled over and does odd jobs. Even the wife of the owner’s son is at odds with the rest of the people. Her husband ignores her and she’s crushed with loneliness and just wants someone to talk to so she frequents the quarters of the men looking to talk to someone.

When Candy hears George and Lennie talk of buying a small farm he asks them to include him. He has savings and would work as best as he could. Then Crooks asks to be included. The ache of these men to leave their miserable surroundings makes you suck air. But Lennie is always a wild card and has to be watched carefully before something goes wrong, and it does.

The Production. Director David Lafontaine has created one dandy production. To get us in the mood for life on the ranch there are rectangles of hay in the lobby. Once in the theatre the tiny stage area of Unit 102 creates the sense of the ranch as well. There is wild grass and foliage to the side of the audience’s seating. There is dirt on the floor with a simple tree stump in it. A slatted structure is up at the back with a sunrise? Sunset painted on it. The scene then changes to the bunkhouse of the ranch hands, with bunks, a table and all manner of paraphernalia. Kudos to set designer Adam Belanger for the fine eye for detail in creating this world.

There is such detail in David Lafontaine’s staging and his direction is just as impressive. This is a wonderful cast from top to bottom. Marc Paci is the most compelling, engaging Lennie. He is both innocent and impish. His head tilts down but his eyes flip up, watchful. He is child-like and easily riled. His fingers of both hands seem to be playing with some thread. It’s a performance full of smart, subtle touches. Brandon Thomas as George is equally as impressive. He is always calm and patient when dealing with Lennie. In his own way George is as awkward as Lennie; both are misfits. Thom Zimerle plays Candy, the man with the mangled hand, with such understatement in a performance full of such pain he takes your breath away. In the small part of Crooks, Brandon McKnight gives a performance of quiet dignity. Crooks is black so is not allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse with the other men. He is relegated to sleeping on bales of hay away in the barn. McKnight illuminates how fearful Crooks is but gives him such character that too is breathtaking.

Of Mice and Men is a tiny, beautiful production in a hole-in-the-wall theatre and I can’t urge you enough to see it.

Comment. This is a wonderful production that should be seen by hordes of people. In fact almost everything I’ve seen by Unit 102 Actor’s Co is worthy of attention. But I have a concern. We are told word of mouth is the best advertising. Fine. And to that end the theatre program is your best source of advertising. The program for Of Mice and Men is woefully inadequate. Here’s what has to be on the cover in future besides the name of the company, the title of the play and the play’s author: please put the dates of the run—it’s maddening that the dates are not there, or on your website. Please fix that. Please put the name and address of the theatre where the show is playing on the cover. And finally indicate a phone number or URL where eager folks can buy tickets. People want to spread the word. Help them out with the proper information.

Produced by Unit 102 Actor’s Co.

First Performance: April 27, 2016.
Closes: May 14, 2016.
Cast: 10; 9 men, 1 woman
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.