Newsday,  November 12, 1973  [ View Scan Version ]
By Leo Seligsohn
Posted Jan 10, 2005

Impressive Revival
By Leo Seligsohn

John Steinbeck's play "Of Mice and Men" seems dated today. Awash in the sentiments of the '30s, it is melodramatic, its people are broadly drawn and its symbolism is as obvious as a street sign.

But it has poetry and power, nevertheless, and in the end its universal cry of loneliness and yearning overcome the dead weight of its theatricality. At the Performing Arts Foundation Playhouse in Huntington Station, where it opened this weekend, the play has been treated with all the tender-loving care it deserves. The casting is on target, the acting of the highest quality, the set stunning, the lighting delicately precise and guest director Steven Robman's staging sensitive and, most of the time, sure.

If there is anything wrong, it is the failure to take the gloss off the melodrama that coats the play like old varnish. For example, Curley, the play's most villainous character wears black from head to toe. It's too much of a cliche. Will Fenno does a good job in the role but would be even better if he could make us feel some sympathy for this villain who, in his way, is the play's most pathetic character.

Another example of unnecessarily heightening an already melodramatic situation is the overlong shocked silence expressed by a farmhand on discovering Curley's wife murdered. This play does not need an extension of an already highly intense moment.

Besides these minor excesses, however, the production is exquisite, breathing fire and tears into the story of George and Lennie, a couple of drifting California farmhands. George, with the soul of a poet, is protector and sole companion of Lennie, a powerful giant of a man with the mind of a child. Together, George and Lennie dream of buying a little farm some day where they can raise chickens, raspberries and rabbits.

As Lennie, Ralph Roberts is exceptional, evoking tenderness and sympathy without becoming a caricature. Other performances are of the highest caliber: Jake Dengel, introspective and spunky as George; Frank Borgman as the despotic ranch owner; Heidi Mefford as Curley's flighty, lonely wife; and Jim Rebhorn, Donald C. Moore and Vic Polizos as colorful farmhands.

As Crooks, the ranch's isolated black man, Eugene Hobgood is marvelous, beautifully developing the play's warmest and most credible character. And William Pardue, as a pathetic lost soul, turns <article incomplete>