When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through May 19 Where: Stageworks, Grand Central at Kennedy, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., West Building, Ground Floor, Tampa How much: $26; (813) 251-8984 and www.stageworkstheatre.org
Life in apocalyptic dust bowl Oklahoma, circa 1937, was a constant struggle to escape from the hopelessness of the present. The only thing reason to keep going was a belief in the dream of arriving at a better place, and that could be anywhere that was different from now.
That dream is what introduces us to George and Lenny, the lead characters in the Stageworks adaptation of John Steinbeck's “Of Mice And Men.” They take us to a farm filled with characters from humanity's last stop before utter surrender, but their desperate hope holds us throughout the production.
There is Lenny, masterfully portrayed by Dennis Duggan. He nailed the role of the conflicted, slow-witted gentle giant, a man of brute strength and loving soul who wants only to be in place where he pets rabbits and dogs and live off “the fat of the land.”
Duggan's powerful interpretation of Lenny's character embodied love and hope, even in a world where all the elements are stacked against him.
Nathan Jokela was well cast as George, Lenny's sidekick and protector. He, too, dreams of a better life – land where he and Lenny can settle and call their own. He knows the place, he knows the cost and he has a plan. Although George often tells Lenny how much better his life would be without him, we know that's not so.
He knows it too.
"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world,” he tells Lenny. “They got no family. They don't belong no place. With us it ain't like that. We got a future.”
To get to that future, that faraway place, they need each other. And that's where Jessica Kerner Scruggs' character comes into play.
She plays the wife of a jealous man, the lone woman on a farm filled with men working long days with the pittance pay of $50 a month. They dismiss her as a “tart” and worse, but through her skillful character development we come to know she is much more than a vamp. She is really just another person trying to escape this lonely outpost.
We see glimpses of Blanche Du Bois, the protagonist from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” as Scruggs introduces us to a character who believes she could have been a movie star, or basically anything other than what she actually is.
The sets are terrific and the moody lighting was effective. There can be a danger that a play with such heavy themes can drag the house down with it, but that didn't happen here. The pacing was spot-on throughout the night.
If you're looking for a light, toe-tapper kind of evening at the theater, this one probably isn't for you. But if you're game to explore the depths of human hope and hopelessness, you won't be disappointed at what you see.
How much: $26; (813) 251-8984 and www.stageworkstheatre.org