A Steinbeck classic with an all-dame cast? Especially this Steinbeck classic, which is such a mano a mano play? It made me uneasy. But what the hell—it was being produced by the Hunger Artists of Santa Ana, who've drawn raves for classic-tweaking, including their minimalist version of Kafka's Metamorphosis a couple of seasons back.
Director/adapter Melissa Petro's program note further inspired my hopes: "I recently saw a wonderful production of Of Mice and Men. Afterward, I concluded that all great roles were written for men. . . . I decided to change that." Cool. I perched on my seat and waited for all-gal high art. What unfolded before me, however, was anything but.
I'm not sure what Petro was on when she had this thought, but I wish I had a tab of it myself. I don't know any other way that her show—which appears completely without rhythm, purpose or tone—can be appreciated.
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In a nutshell, Petro feminized the names of the principal characters (Georgia and Pennie), stuck them in a beauty salon instead of a ranch, and replaced important symbols such as rabbits and kittens with meaningless ones like sweeping floors and disco-ball key chains. Don't ask, I beg you. The dialogue—a hodgepodge of Depression-era and modern slang—was deafening in its awkwardness and senselessness.
Most unforgivable, there's no attempt to break the surface of any of Steinbeck's themes or symbolism. Instead, it's an indigestible gruel of weird drama and stupid comedy. For example: Candy leads a homeless man, Rex, around like a dog (instead of the real lame dog that Steinbeck's Candy led around that symbolized his own uselessness), and then the homeless guy returns after rehab a princely diplomat and steals her away to some foreign country, complete with a Cinderella-music backdrop. The horror; the horror.
There were a few good things about the production: the salon set design was accomplished, complete with that framed first dollar bill behind the register; flamboyant David Leuluai was welcome comic relief and sported great Kiss shoes; Julie Ackerman as one-handed shop-sweep Candy elicited some genuine chuckles; Jami McCoy tried valiantly to make ding-a-ling Pennie endearing; and Kimberly Fisher as hard-ass Carlson had on-the-money timing with the few humorous lines in the play. Sorry, ladies. How about a little Eudora Welty next time?
Of Mice and Women at the Hunger Artists, 204 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 13. $10-$12.