Theatre Unleashed is projecting a noticeable theatrical evolution with it’s current production of John Steinbeck’s immortal tale of two migrant field workers during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men, directed by Aaron Lyons.
Spencer Cantrell stars as George Milten, an intelligent but frustrated man, reaching for the American Dream that is just beyond his grasp. Gregory Crafts stars as Steinbeck’s legendary lead character Lennie, a sweet, strong man with a mental disability and a knack for getting into trouble.
From start to finish, this is Theatre Unleashed’s most put-together production in some time and remarkably compelling in its storytelling from acting to lighting, set design, sound, costume design and it’s most outstanding element, direction.
Talent of the entire company members cast has been stepped up by Lyons’ intense guidance, revealing genuinely hard-hitting scenes and even some spontaneity, with Cantrell capturing every moment as the driving performance of this play.
Both Cantrell and Crafts do well together independently on stage and as part of the ensemble cast. Cantrell has just the right balance between anger and empathy for Lennie and a levity that keeps the story in a hard but hopeful reality. Crafts has the most difficult role to play but maneuvers with genuine unpremeditated emotional resonance.
One other notable performance is by Lee Pollero as Curly. Having experienced Pollero in other roles where he is often cast much more boyishly lightweight, he has stepped aggressively into this muscular, angry character and done so with fervor. The entire cast is strong here and continuously surprises with a completely sturdy performance.
One added feature that drives this show is the musical accompaniment by composer/guitarist Shane Howard who keeps audiences’ ears delicately engaged with continuous background sound, just light enough to allow the players to engage with one another without obstruction, which leaves the audience to feel the rippling and often shock effect in the important silences. It is an effective technique that enhances the richness of this powerful story large enough for a big stage but set beautifully in the black box of The Crown Upstairs. In fact, the set is so well done, it truly and imaginatively delineates multiple environments without the feeling of crowding which can often be the case in a small space.
Photography by Lonnie Silverman