TITLE: Of Mice and Men
REVIEWER: Vernon Anthony Cloete
DIRECTOR: David Ndjavera
CAST: Lucky Pieters, Blessing Risto,Paul Moody Pontac, Steven Afrikaner and Romulus Pieterse.
The National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture funded the staging of this classic American novella adapted into a theatre play.
John Steinbeck is a writer that is fascinated by the existential hovering of people and putting stories then in a very naturalistic and truthful manner.
He tells the simple and elementary story of true people that is suffering .Already living worse than mice and have less security then mice. This novella was inspired by a poem of a very well known and prolific 18th century Scottish poet by the name of Robert Scott.
In this novella that Ndjavera adapted into a stage play lies a lot of open themes. The most present theme throughout the play was dreams, and especially the dreams of Lenny Small(Lucky Pieters), and that of the person who carries poor strong and innocent Lenny,s soul and childish feel, George. George (Blessing) has to be by Lennie’s side as he is Lennie’s emotional guider and tell their dreams. Lenny’s cruel innocence will eventually suffocate George. Lenny is their proverbial only comfort in this live of chasing and craving for human justice too.
Steinbeck created a very shocking and paradoxical character in Lenny Small. Small he isn’t feeble neither. Lenny could even be the anecdotal character symbolic of thwarted friendship, and a lost innocent reality as far as one saw the very strong and difficult bond of the two characters. (Lennie and George ) .
This production was staged last week for the secondary schools in and round the Capital at the NTN. The alter theme of the play would be then also a look at togetherness, and perhaps in Steinbeck manner or style, it could be a kind of strong socialistic revolt towards injustices of the poor black people. How little the Southerners or Texan boys really respected the African Americans working in their corn fields and mending their barley.
Please allow me then to say that when the stage curtains were opened I had the biggest eye sore ever when I set eyes on Ndjavera’s set. The set design for this production of this Steinbeck play had an expensive dull air on stage with not even a mouse to move, breath or even to carry the energy from one thespian towards the other. The idea to have a dull dry bush on the centre stage, and right in the middle surrounded with heaps of sand, could have been a brilliant idea yet to the entire stage was designed almost like the studio set up of a soap opera dated back to the 1930s. And when I say the 1930s, I could really not say if it was in Rehoboth, in the States or Windhoek? Purism could also be my downfall but I believe the stage really was too filled with unnecessary props and was suffocating the flow of this play.
Problematic concerning the flowing of a clear pathos, the characters were strong and the dialect or the manner they were improvising their characters was a bit obscured. Actors like Candy (Paul Hamman) and the character portrayed by Risto, (Ngambe), was most convincing in keeping the American accent whereas Slim (Romulus Pieterse) really carried himself like the landlord or the sheriff. Probably also the only costume that could break the dull air on stage was the shocking white suit Slim (Pieterse) wore. Apart from the colourful diva and flimsy Chanel or Marlene Dietrich wanna be outfits, Curley’s wife had on.
One reads the play or perhaps the novella and one discovers that Steinbeck did not order a tree to be in the centre of the stage apart but rather slightly on the side. The sandy front centre stage was the perfect block to block actors to not have proper block space .To have been able to use that minimal empty space on stage was a hassle for the cast, and sure even for David Ndjavera when he blocked his actors?Ja?
Without any doubt Ndjavera proved that with all his shocking tactics and explosive power as an actor, that as a director he did not fail at all. Ndjavera’s dynamics was also present in his stamp marked dynamical directing and blocking his cast to have firework results. He, Ndjavera, succeeded in carrying the magic in the honest and intense flow of especially the scene between Lenny (Lucky Pieters) and Curly’s wife (Moody Pontac). That scene had the same vibrant energy and metaphysical boldness as when one sees Ndjavera on stage as an actor.
It is very disapproving to see the little amount of funds theatre organisations in Namibia would spend in proper sets and proper costumes too. With a much more clearer and solid set, as well as with more louder costumes, this Steinbeck play directed by Namibia’s crowned best actor,could have been more appreciated.
Perhaps we do need more set designers and better costumes?
This American classic epic or novella is a prescribed piece of literature for this years Grade 12 IGCSE learners .The National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) and the Ministry of Education funded this David Ndjavera directed -production.
Ndjavera also directed the play with a known and semi professional cast. Overall the cast had a strong carry for each others characters as well as rhythm and tempo. The main theme being dreams portrayed in a very surreal and naturalistic, absurd manner was carried swiftly and maturely though. I did expect a bit more internalisation or character improvisation from a veteran actor like Lucky Pieters. Yet, Pieters was stealing the show with his very clear not intelligent yet warm Lenny Small he portrayed. I felt that Blessing Mbonambi had more to offer as he had a very clear diction and dialogue and character dialect yet he seemed to have been in a race to finish his lines.
Actors many a times forget about breathing to the new beats as well as carrying each other swiftly through the empty spaces on stage, even though the silences...sometimes. Paul Hamman was somehow disturbing in his very strong Namibian accent, yet his character carried much more dramatics and symbolics then other actors. . Romulus Pieterse has very strong presence as Slim, yet sometimes I feel that this actor was not clear. Perhaps voice articulation and projection seem to be a stumbling block for Pieterse. The same count for Curley (Risto Ngambe.) I was very delighted to see Risto in a theatre production as he sure did not shy away to show us his thespian skills. Rhisto is a strong actor but still needs some crafting to become one of the new promising Namibian actors.
Once theatre bug -bitten actors get into the hands of real directors, and not the ones who want to keep the limelight for themselves, theatre will grow extensively. For now its a proper disregard for other peoples moves and rituals, especially those of elementary Namibians. Pontac is a known actor yet she was not vey much convincing in this role as Curley’s wife. Moody Pontac has also a very strong charisma on stage yet here she played very mediocre and somehow flat seeing that we all know her as a well-known Namibian actor who is also a keen professional dancer.
Steven Afrikaner and Lucky Pieters as well as Blessings Mbonambi were the stronger more experienced cast members whilst there lies a heap of unshaped talent in Pieterse, Ngambe as well as Hamman .
Ndjavera may with the help of more professional set designers and more colourful costumes lead the aspiring Namibian youth to new dimensions of Namibian theatre, especially in the directing of home grown production with home grown symbols and feel.