by Matthew Falduto
Washington - What an amazing theatre they have in Washington, Iowa. Beautiful stage, fly rigging, lights, raked seating... it's a great place to perform. Apparently, a gift from Washington residents and theatre lovers Dick and Sara McCleery made it all possible back in the 70s when the theatre was built. If you've never had a chance to check out the theatre, I highly recommend you do so. And what better way to do that than by attending one of the remaining performances of an American classic, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck?
Of Mice and Men tells the story of two farmhands looking for work during the Great Depression: George, played by Tim Johnson, and Lennie, played by Don Hughes. George is a smart man who takes care of Lennie, who despite his great size and strength, has the mental faculties of a child. George and Lennie arrive at the ranch with the hopes of making a big enough stake so they can buy their own place. Unfortunately, this story is a tragedy and Lennie's combination of an amazing strength and an utter lack of understanding leads to a death that forces George to make a terrible decision.
WCT's production has many wonderful aspects to it. Before the show began, we were treated to some excellent harmonica playing. The music really set the mood for the show and was a welcome distraction during intermission and set changes. And what a great set it was! Every location was perfectly and realistically rendered, from the bunkhouse to the giant haystack in the barn.
Three actors really stood out in this production. Don Hughes perfectly captured Lennie and all of his moods. For the show to work, we have to feel a great empathy for Lennie and Hughes did an excellent job of evoking that emotion. He also had excellent chemistry with Tim Johnson's George. Another performer who truly stood out was Alicia Smith as Curley's Wife. In the book (and the play), the character is never named. Her purpose in the story is to further the tragedy of Lennie. However, Smith's portrayal added depth to the character which in turn added to that tragedy. Finally, Andrew Cole did a fine job as Crooks, the African American farm worker with the crooked back. He provided some much needed humor in his one main scene.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the four-legged actor, Stitches. Performing the role of The Old Dog, Stitches really got into character when it was time for him to go off stage and be "killed." He refused to go, fighting every step of the way. That's some powerful acting from our canine friend.
I realize many of my readers are in the Iowa City/Coralville area. It's definitely worth the 50 minute drive to check out this theatre. If Of Mice and Men does not interest you, their next show is Man of la Mancha, which will be directed by a name familiar to many Iowa City area theatergoers: Josh Sazon.
I enjoy the new and innovative shows that are being done, but it's always important to remember that classics are classics for a reason. Of Mice and Men is a novel I read every few years. This production is a great way to experience this truly American story.