Review by Janet I. Martineau
Memo from Pit and Balcony Community Theater of Saginaw to the Bay City Players: back at ya, game on.
There is no way these two companies could have collaborated on producing back to back two of the most grandly written ensemble plays, with rich and deep human stories, based on the playwright's life, with brilliant acting, direction and staging.
But there we have it. Wow.
Last weekend Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias" opened in Bay City and concludes its run this weekend. On Friday night John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" opened at Pit.
What even adds more fun to the comparison is that "Steel Magnolias" has a cast of six WOMEN and takes place in a southern in-home beauty salon. And "Mice" takes place on a Great Depression era California farm employing migrant workers, with a cast of nine MEN ....and one tarty woman.
We heaped praise last weekend on "Steel Magnolias." Now it is the turn for "Mice."
It is difficult not to point out that "Mice" seems even more relevant given today's political climate in America. Anyone who knows me knows I am a rabid Democrat, but in seeing this play and the power with which it was directed and acted we now understand why so many disenfranchised people backed Trump.
The men on this ranch, and actually the woman too eventually, will break your heart with their unachievable hopes and dreams, their humanity, their dead end jobs, their Camraderie.
Director William Kircher, a newcomer at Pit but with 47 years of experience of directing all over the state, has allowed his cast to amble through their roles. And we mean that with the sincerest of compliments. There is no rushing of lines or moments.
Toward the end there is a double soliloquy between the woman, Amy Spadafore Loose, and the big and powerful simpleton Lennie lead played by Chris Gouin and suddenly your opinions of both of them change dramatically as you listen to their innermost thoughts, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. God the two of them are great throughout in this production.
Jo-el Gonzalez is a quiet presence... more listening to other people and responding to them... but his unspoken humanity is incredible. One line he speaks at the end – "do you want me to leave" – will indeed break your heart.
Then there is Robert Fournier as Candy, an old handicapped rancher whose relationship with his dog is another grabber. Fournier is just so incredibly smooth throughout the show.
Kevin Kendrick, a black ranchhand with a body tilt, has a small role but he will strangle you with it. He has to live in the barn not the bunkhouse, all alone, because of his race, and the N-word is tossed around very liberally.
When some of the ranch hands visit his "room" for the first time they are envious because he has lots of space and a place to get away from everybody. He will in his dialogue and how he delivers it tell you how that really isn't very cool.
Kale Schafer is George, the co-lead with Gouin, the kind but volatile simpleton. They have a been migrating from ranch to ranch throughout their life for reasons that will become abundantly clear....Kale's character painfully tending to the many frustrating issues of that relationship. Irritable at one second and loving the next.
Kudos also to Sheldon, a five-year-old Australian Shepherd Blue Merle as Candy's dog. This guy is beautifully behaved and comfortable on stage.
Rounding out the cast are Jerry Gwisdala as the ornery owner of the ranch and Isaiah James-Garcia Powell as his hot blooded son who is married to the tart, and all-purpose ranch hands Howard Deal and Matt Kehoe.
Kircher's attention to detail is outstanding .... the noise of barking dogs, whinnying horses, running water, gunshots, a horseshoe hitting the ring, the collection of stuff hanging on the walls in the bunkhouse and barn, a bruised face. Mary Boone's costumes totally define the characters. Kevin Dzurak's three-part set and Mary Whalen Swift's paintings are exquisite and so real.
Two weeks, two fabulous plays.
(During the dress rehearsal we saw we took a series of fabulous photographs. Which at this point will not load out of my camera and into the computer...for the second time. We thought we had corrected the problem. If we can we will load in the pictures as soon as possible of "Mice." In the meantime these two poor quality smart phone images will have to do.)