A gripping 'Of Mice and Men'
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
Held at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre, on Sunday, The National Theatre Live (NTL) Broadway debut staging of John Steinbeck's classic, Of Mice and Men, was an all-round exhibition of high-quality drama.
Powered by award-winning actors James Franco and Chris O'Dowd, and with precision guidance from director Anna D. Shapiro, the play was a tapestry of effective set and appropriate costumes combining with stunning acting and excellent directing. All were interwoven to reinforce the underlining and compelling theme of companionship.
With its intriguing outdoor-opening setting, Of Mice and Men, tells the story of an unwavering relationship between two men, the protective George Milton, played by Franco, and the mentally retarded Lennie Small, played by O'Dowd. Both met as children and have fostered a relationship over the years, resulting in an unbreakable bond of friendship. George explains to Slim (Jim Parrack), a supervisor on the ranch, that at their last place of employment, his loyalty to Lennie was not so in the initial years of their friendship. He, like others, would tease Lennie for being a half-wit until one near fatal experience. From then, he has become very protective of him and together they drift across the California heartland in search of employment and, ultimately, fulfilling dreams of owning their own place.
But a barrier to making the dream reality lies in the disharmony between Lennie's mental capacity and his physical strength. Lennie thinks and acts like a two-year-old, while having the strength of an ox. This often has negative consequences, resulting in them having to move on. Steinbeck, in the end, chose a gripping conclusion that generated empathy for George in making the ultimate decision that ended years of friendship.
This final action of the play, seem to counteract its principal idea, that preserving relationship is the very foundation of our humanity, as Steinbeck's characters are all connected by a need for companionship and a dream to move on to a better place. From the nameless Curley's wife (Leighton Meester), who constantly leaves the big house in search of someone to talk with, to Crooks (Ron Cephas Jones) the black man who is placed in a bunk by himself because of his race, and Candy (Jim Norton) who seeks companionship from an old dog. All voiced the desire for a friendship that is manifested through George and Lennie's relationship. Interestingly, George and Lennie are the only two characters with surnames.
To achieve the level of required intensity while delivering the many laugh-lines, meant the actors had to put on their 'A' game, and they did just that. Overall, especially the principals, Franco, O'Dowd, Meester and Parrack (Slim), were consistently believable throughout the production. Their movements, appropriate and varied, illustrated the depth to which they understood their roles. Lennie's retardation was reinforced by O'Dowd in every movement of his limbs. From the odd movement of his eyes, the twitching of his fingers, to the way he walked, were illustrations of a clear understanding between the actor and his role.
Franco was just as effective and clear in detailing George, who moved his audience to tears in his final act of protection of his friend. Meester, the lone female in the production, was just as stunning in her creation of the pitiful Curley's wife, while Parrack was just as true to his no-nonsense character Slim.
Costume designer Suttirat Larlarb's work, also added to the overall characterisation. With the setting spanning a 24 hours, or more, period of time, there was little costume change for the men. Curley's wife was aptly dressed in compatible colours. But showing the progression of time through dirt accumulated on Lennie's hard-jeans overall, was fantastic.
Set designer Todd Rosenthal's practical and pleasing to look at set, also captured the mood, style and period of the play. While director Anna D. Shapiro paid keen attention not only in her blocking of the characters, but all technical aspects of the production, resulting in a smooth running production. Additionally, her balanced use of the acting areas, well defined entrances and exit, and a nice pacing of the play, was significant in making the show a great one.