Of Mice And Men

by Rebecca Thomas

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday November 14, 2009

Danny Gavigan (Lennie) and Mark A. Rhea (George) star in Of Mice and Men, playing through Nov. 29 at the Church Street Theatre
Danny Gavigan (Lennie) and Mark A. Rhea (George) star in Of Mice and Men, playing through Nov. 29 at the Church Street Theatre  (Source:James Coates)

In Northwest DC, off of Dupont Circle, there is a short street between P and Q Streets that is home to the Church Street Theater. It isn't a large theater; in fact it is only a small black box setup that can seat a maximum of 125 people. In short, it would be easy to pass by if you weren't looking for it. But it may surprise you to learn that this tiny theater is host to a tremendously talented group of performers: the players of the Keegan Theater Company.

This month, from now until November 29th, the good people of Keegan Theater--recently returned from their 2009 Ireland Tour--are performing Of Mice and Men in the small theater on Church Street. Although they have enough talent to fill a much larger venue, I enjoyed the intimate setting for this particular production. Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck, is a highly personal tale; sitting in the black box on Church Street you get more of an impression of being inside the story, rather than simply being a spectator.

As a general rule, every production has its lemons: those individuals who act as enough of a detractor from the production as to cause its scoring to drop a bit. I was thus astonished to find that, in this production, every character played his (or her) role flawlessly. Obviously, there were those that genuinely shone more than others, but no one was guilty of overacting, no one faded into the background, and certainly no one was painful to watch. For the first time in a while it was genuinely refreshing to see a piece of theater where I never once felt inclined to cringe because of a character misstep.

There were, of course, those who I appreciated more than others. Matt Boliek did an outstanding job of capturing the character Candy, whose pathetic air pulls at your heartstrings. Between his genuine grief at the loss of his dog to his desperate hope that plans will work out even in the face of tragedy, Boliek did a superb job of capturing his characters every subtle element.

For the first time in a while it was genuinely refreshing to see a piece of theater where I never once felt inclined to cringe because of a character misstep.

Also worth a mention is Paul Andrew Morton who played the estranged character of Crooks, a black man who is no longer technically a slave but who still has no definite place in this world. Morton successfully portrayed his character's two main emotional impulses: frustration at the men responsible for his being ostracized, coupled with a desperate need for human contact.

Lee Mathews also deserves to be recognized for her ability to imbue the character of Curley's wife, whom many find as loathsome, with enough pathos to make her worthy of pity.

But the star of the show was, in fact, one of the stars of the show. Danny Gavigan, who played Lennie Small, was absolutely riveting. Gavigan must have either grown up in proximity to someone with Down's syndrome or spent months studying people who have it, because he captured the mannerisms to a tee. Between his constant far-off expression, his rapid speech, and his tendency to get too easily worked up (and subsequently violent), there were moments when it seemed impossible to believe that he was playing a role. I cannot tell you the thrill that went through me to see his transformation at the end of the play, when he came out onto the stage to take a bow and flashed a relaxed and mischievous smile at the audience. I could scarcely believe that a man without bi-polar disorder could so perfectly capture the essence of another human being.

Set design was nothing to scream about. It was simple--made up primarily of wooden pallets--but it served its purpose well. The dramatically effective lighting was key in making one of the most important moments in the production all the more captivating: in the final scene the lights begin to fade, one by one, until only a single spotlight remains, shining down on Lennie and reminiscent of the white light at the end of the tunnel.

Four out of five stars for a rare performance in which every actor played his (or her) role flawlessly and some left you begging for more.

Of Mice and Men plays through November 29 at the Church Street Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW, Washington, DC 20036. For tickets and more information, visit www.keegantheatre.com/calendar/47714.html

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer and photographer in the Orlando area who has worked as an independent contractor for several media outlets over the years, including but not limited to: U.S. News & World Report, The World Picture Network (WpN) and Aurora Photos. She has a BA from Cornell University in Anthropology and History. She enjoys fluffy dogs, Starbucks seasonal coffee blends, and promoting the advancement of LGBT and other causes through her writing and reviews.