In his 1937 novella “Of Mice and Men,” John Steinbeck wrote: “As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment.” As it happens, Steinbeck could well have been writing about the stage adaptation of his story directed by Daren Scott and now on stage at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. It’s a deliberately paced (especially in the first act) telling of the tale of migrant ranch workers George and Lennie in which systematic silences and aching tension predominates. Moments do indeed settle and hover during the two-and-a-half-hour staging, some more absorbing than others.
Moments stretch like hours as the actors, and the audience, wait in silence for the offstage mercy killing of a decrepit dog; and Lennie’s accidental throttling of the ranch boss’ son’s wife, the tragedy that precipitates another, ultimate mercy killing, hovers effectively to the point where you want to look away. On the other hand, the opening scene introduction of and conversation between George and Lennie prior to their arriving for their new ranch jobs lags, as does some of the Act 1 interplay that follows. (Act 2, by comparison, is swift, violent and as impactful as a kick to the solar plexus.)
Part of NVA’s season Ensemble Project, Of Mice and Men flexes its dramatic muscle on the strength of solid performances by Justin Lang as George and Manny Fernandes as a poignant Lennie, with notable support from Jack Missett as old one-armed Candy and Kelly Iversen as the lonely, ill-fated wife of Curley (Kyle Lucy)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat