Heartbreak and hope


Of Mice and Men


Written by John Steinbeck

Directed by Pat Diamond

Cyclops Productions (http://www.cyclopsproductions.com)

Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street

Equity showcase (closed)

Review by Judd Hollander


Cyclops Productions has mounted a strong, if not always stellar, production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Billed as the 70th Anniversary production of the work, this tale of lost men searching for a dream is as powerful now as when it first premiered.


Set in California during the Great Depression of the 1930s, two migrant workers, George Milton (Douglas Taurel) and the ironically named Lennie Small (Tony F. DeVito) head for a ranch in the Salinas Valley looking for work. George, tired and bitter, has long felt he would have made something of himself if it weren't for Lennie, a towering figure with the IQ of a child; and whose brute strength and simple mind keeps getting them into trouble. It was Lennie's actions at their last job which forced both to flee with a lynch mob on their tail. Now, all either want is to stay out of trouble, but factors such as an intensely jealous (and full-of-himself) ranch hand named Curley (Erik Gislason), who's also the boss's son, and Curley's wife (Elizabeth A. Davis), a woman with a roving eye, conspire to make that all but impossible.


At the heart of Steinbeck's work is the seeming impossibility of the downtrodden to realize a dream for a better life - a theme which resonates still today. George and Lennie have long talked about getting enough money together to buy a small place of their own -- with cows and pigs and rabbits, where they can live off the fat of the land. While Lennie has always believed it, George has treated it as a little more than a bedtime story, never thinking it could happen. But when they get to the ranch and meet an aging ranch hand named Candy (James Broderick) who buys into this dream, for the first time George begins to believe it himself and starts to take steps to make it come true. At least, until tragedy strikes.


While the story is strong, the casting is not; especially with the two leads, the actors never bringing these tragic figures fully to life. The character of George (cynical on the outside, with the soul of a dreamer underneath), has always been saddled with having to relate large chunks of exposition and Taurel does so here in a bitter tone that never seems to vary, becoming monotonous at times. While this does make his later emotional moments all the more poignant, too many of his speeches have a droning quality to them. As for DeVito, his performance, while adequate, is rather flat and lacking in pathos. His joy of holding a puppy and fear over doing "a bad thing" is almost the same in texture, and as a result we never feel as much for Lennie as we should.


It's the supporting characters who come through the strongest, such as Candy, who sees in George and Lennie a last chance for a different life. His final scene is heartbreaking to watch as he sees the rest of his existence set out before him. General Fermon Judd Jr. as Crook and Matthew Floyd Miller as Slim are also quite good; the former another man who believes in George and Lennie's dream and desperately wanting to share in it, and the latter a dependable ranch hand who has enough common sense to know when difficult choices must be made - and enough compassion to care about the people involved.


A nice surprise is Davis as Curley's wife - someone who can easily be played in an almost throw-away manner. Davis infuses her with enough loneliness and frustration to make her fully formed. As a character trapped in an unhappy marriage and desperate for human contact (which leads to her downfall), Davis allows the audience to see the needs and desires within this woman. Gislason is nicely menacing as Curley, while the rest of the cast (Jason Grossman, Jack Hayflick and Justin Swain) all work well with the material they are given.


Other than the problems with the leads mentioned above, Pat Diamond's direction is good, keeping the story moving nicely; one never gets the feeling the play has overstayed its welcome. Costumes by Christie Carroll work well, as do the sets (uncredited in the program), lighting by Scott Bowman, sound design by David M. Lawson and music by the multi-talented, aforementioned Ms. Davis.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 1

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

Copyright 2007 Judd Hollander

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