Laying Plans Worthy “Of Mice and Men”: Director Perez brings Steinbeck Classic to Toledo Rep Stage

(L-R) Heath Huber and Brad Smith as Lennie and George in the Toledo Rep's production of "Of Mice and Men." "I like to pride myself on not approaching the process with set ideas on how the characters should look," director Sonia Perez said.

For nearly 80 years one of the most celebrated and ubiquitous works of literature has been John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” From the original novel to numerous adaptations on stage and screen, audiences have been moved by the sad tale of George and Lennie, migrant ranch workers whose dreams of owning their own farm come to a tragic end.

The classic novel is currently a living production at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre on 10th St. The show began its run on March 31 and is scheduled to run one final weekend, beginning Thursday, April 6.

“We have had a very good opening weekend and we are looking forward to next weekend,” director Sonia Perez said in an interview.

Still Relevant Today

Like many of her generation, Perez— a native of New York— came to the story of George and Lennie at a young age, reading “Of Mice and Men” in high school. She said that she believes Steinbeck’s ability to create distinct and relatable characters is a big reason why the story still resonates after so many years.

“Steinbeck has the great ability to bring forth characters that are real people with all their attributes and flaws. The subject matter of the play is also very relevant today: the human struggle of finding one’s place in world is universal,” Perez said.

“The main characters of Lennie and George are migrant workers that travel from place to place looking for work. In the not so distant past, there have been factories across the country that have closed and irreversibly changed the lives of so many people and as a result have caused many workers to go from job to job no longer having any kind of stability.”

Perez said she was immediately drawn to the prospect of directing “Of Mice and Men” after her experiences helming “And Then There Were None” during last year’s Toledo Rep season. In casting the show, Perez noted how she tried to keep an open mind in terms of the kind of actor she wanted to fill the show’s two most iconic roles.

“I like to pride myself on not approaching the process with set ideas on how the characters should look. I have often cast against ‘type’ and chosen an actor who I feel can truly grasp the many layers of the character but may not perfectly fit the physical description,” Perez said.

Minimalist Approach

Perez has also adopted a minimalist approach to the technical side of the production — the sets, by Paul Wesley Alday, are primarily made up of unfinished wood, giving the whole production a rough, rustic look.

“One of the advantages of unfinished wood is that it absorbs and reflects light beautifully. In terms of the lighting design, I have incorporated an effect that uses light to both foreshadow and act as a ‘Greek Chorus’ commenting on pivotal choices of the characters in the play. I would tell you more but that would spoil the fun.”

Perez noted how she hopes audiences are taking away from her production the ability to identify with the plight of George and Lennie, and in some ways gain insight into the human condition.

“Theatre is a wonderful medium of communication and reflection. I greatly enjoy working with actors to find their path of discovery where they can pull from their palette of experience in bringing the characters to life,” Perez said.

“Of Mice and Men” will continue for a final weekend, beginning Thursday, March 6.

8pm, Friday-Saturday. 2:30pm, Sunday.
$20/adults, $18/seniors, $17/groups of 10 or more,
$10/students (age 14 +), $5/students (up to age 13).
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre
16 10th St., 419-243-9277.