Mice, Men and USF

This October, the USF School of Theater and Dance opens its production of John Steinbeck’s tale of brotherhood and loss, Of Mice And Men. The production shows that disenfranchised men living a transient lifestyle are still men, and they still have hopes and dreams of making a better life for themselves.

The narrative focuses on downtrodden field laborers in the early part of the twentieth century, in particular, George and Lenny, two ranch hands who travel to a rural farm to work. They dream of one day saving enough money to buy their own farm, but the conditions of the ranch leads to a life of wage slavery.

Director Monica Steele said the production should have an impact on students because of its relevance to the outskirts of the USF campus. To the west is Suitcase City, an area between Fletcher and Fowler Avenues so named for the high number of transient men living in this unincorporated area of Hillsborough County.

Many homeless and otherwise transient men are on the streets, and most are asking for handouts or food.

“When I drive to work, I pass by these people, and I see them struggling to survive,” Steele said. She went on to point out the similarity between the uncertainty in today’s economy with that of the Great Depression.

“My history of directing and acting has always included the stories of the forgotten people who are grouped together,” she said “It is always a task to help us see what’s right under our noses.”

Steele began The Mice and Men project after waiting many years for the right set of elements.

“You can’t do it if the men aren’t into it,” she said of the storyline. “I saw men in my classes who were up to a role such as Lenny (the mentally challenged but physically able character whom the plot revolves around).”

Jack Holloway, who plays Lenny, brings life and truth to his character that comes across without forced mannerisms and accents.

Michael Titone turns in an overwrought performance as Curly, a ranch owner’s son and Lenny’s antagonist.

The real treat for theatergoers is the set design, which ably communicates the drab western fields of the 1930s. Set designer Bill Lorenzen and student designer Ed Ross settled on a simple formula for the rough and tumble environment: found objects.

The opening set of a riverbank is composed of an old wooden fence rescued from a vacant lot. The boards have a weathered look that is real and hard to artificially reproduce.

After the opening scene, the set is deconstructed by the actors themselves and reassembled into the bunkhouse where ranch-hands stay. The curtains do not close during this process, and the audience is a witness to the transformation.

“Things that are normally hidden are done in the open,” Steele said, “Hopefully that adds an element of realism.”