Long Island Press,  November 12, 1973  [ View Scan Version ]
Posted Jan 17, 2005

On the aisle
Steinbeck gem returns
By: Judy Fischer

"Of Mice and Men" is a play too seldom performed. It is a gem of the American theater.

Adapted by John Steinbeck and George S. Kaufman from Steinbeck's short novel, it is a tight, magnificently worked play. It's also one that doesn't need the Steinbeck leit-motif of agricultural workers in California. There's a starkness to the theme that defies location.

The Performing Arts Foundation has created a glowing production. The performance is shrouded in the doomed hopes of the characters. The tension mounts as the play progress until the denouement is a relief.

The plot is simple. Two agricultural drifters, Lennie Small and George Milton, go to work on a ranch just until, maybe, they can get a "stake" for a small piece of land where they can live free of the world's pains and pressures.

Lennie mentally is a child. A big, enormously strong baby, Lennie couldn't survive without George, and George would have no existence without taking care of Lennie.

George, Lennie, the old ranch hand Candy, Curley's wife, and even Curley are victims of their own dreams and aspirations.

Ralph Roberts as Lennie is a monolith. Solid, strong, innocent and poignant, he moves through his life without remembering or comprehending. His loves are George and the soft, furry things he wants to touch.

Jake Dengel as George is the counterpoint to Lennie. Quick-witted, scrappy, and with a need for love he'd rather not admit.

But this production makes it hard to single out anyone as a "star." It has been too lovingly put together.

Will Fenno as Curley, for instance, brings a pathos to his role as the obnoxious, tormented new husband.

Heidi Mefford is Curley's wife, the woman called a tart by all the ranch hands. But she, too, only longs for her place in the sun and a reprieve from a life of isolation and dullness.

William Pardue, who plays the aging, one-armed Candy, is a remarkably versatile actor. He slips into his roles as if they're old coats. His dreams, too, are trampled by the end of the play.

In the first act the characters, relationships and situations are all being established. But in Act II, everything comes together as riveting drama.

The flaws in the production lie in the physical elements of the staging. PAF has chosen a representational set and American folk music for the background. It's all pertinent to Steinbeck's social conscience, but this isn't foremost a play about the social ills of the Depression-era Southwest.

It could easily be "Waiting for Godot" in a different language and culture.

Yes, it's true, these men are part of a system that keeps them forever lost and wandering and dreaming, but "Of Mice and Men" is more than that. It's about the human condition and the need for love and identity.

This is the great strength of the play and of PAF's performance.