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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, November 22, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The childlike Lennie, played by Dan Hale, attracts
the attention of Curley's wife, played by Jill Rolston.

Familiar drama
rivetingly played

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" has been a staple of high school English classes for so long that it's unlikely anyone seeing the stage version doesn't already know the ending. The wonderful thing about Manoa Valley Theatre's production is that director Betty Burdick and a great cast make the familiar story an engrossing one.

It's clear early into the story that Lennie, the powerful giant with the mentality and emotional stability of a young child, is a danger to himself and those around him.

Lennie doesn't intend to kill the small furry animals he enjoys petting, but when he gets excited, "bad things" happen.

Lennie didn't mean to scare that woman walking down the street; all he wanted to do was feel the fabric of her dress, but she screamed and he got confused, and then he and his friend George had to spend hours hiding in an irrigation ditch to escape an angry mob.

George Milton, Lennie's long-suffering friend and caretaker, is aware of the danger but short on options. He goes from day to day, trying to keep Lennie docile and safe.

We feel George's frustration and sympathize with him in the opening minutes of Act I -- life would be so much easier for George without Lennie. We come to accept Lennie and sympathize with him as the story plays out.

Dan Hale makes a memorable theater debut as Lennie. It is hard to imagine a more convincing portrayal.

Local playwright Alani Apio (George) is creditable opposite Hale. Apio seems flatter than necessary early in Act I, but adds emotion and depth to the role from there on. The final moments of the story are everything they should be.

Other members of the cast help make two scenes particularly memorable. Lawrence Blanchard (Candy) and Gemini Burke (Crooks) are key components in the scene where Lennie innocently intrudes on Crooks' segregated living quarters and some of the other farm hands follow.

Blanchard gives a great performance in a fine character role throughout the show. Burke plays the crippled and complex black man perfectly and allows the audience to draw its own conclusions about Crooks and his relationship to the white workers.

Jill Rolston (Curley's wife) and director Burdick likewise seem to let the audience decide if Curley's wife is a teasing slut or a lonely, unsophisticated rural girl who rushed into marriage with the wrong man.

The interplay between Hale and Rolston makes their big scene worth seeing twice. Hale delivers his early eulogy to a dead puppy perfectly. When Rolston comes on, she meshes with Hale perfectly in illustrating each mistake the two innocents make.

Russell Motter (Carlson) goes three-for-three with his latest strong performance as an MVT villain, although some might say euthanizing a decrepit aged dog is an act of compassion. Motter plays the role with a fine sense of character and easy command of dialect.

Garison Piatt (Slim) is instantly likable as the primary voice of reason and fair play. Thomas Z. Reese (Curley) does a fine job as the belligerent bully with marital problems. Mal Gillin (Boss) completes the cast with a straightforward portrayal of Curley's hard but decent father.

Darren Hochstedler's revolving set and Cathie Anderson's lighting designs neatly create various settings with minimal delay. Original music by Jason Taglianetti (sound design) adds another interesting facet to the experience.

Of Mice and Men

Bullet When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 5.
Bullet Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $20. $3 discount available for students and senior citizens
Bullet Call: 988-6131

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