Park Square's Of Mice and Men
Also see Ed's reviews of Hormel Girls, A Christmas Carol and
The play is about loneliness, inequality, alienation and deep-rooted affection. George and Lennie are homeless agricultural workers who cling to an unlikely friendship and drift from one poorly paid farm job to another. George is quick-witted and lean; Lennie is simple-minded and built like a bull. They sustain their hard lives by dreaming of having a place of their own by a river, with a field of alfalfa for a cow and the rabbits that Lennie longs to tend. "We'll live off the fat of the land," George promises Lennie. As the dream comes within reach, things go awry.
Terry Hempleman looks and feels the part of George, from thinning hair to wiry frame, and George's affection for Lennie is palpable. Hapless Lennie is a liability in George's life, and Zach Curtis' slow-moving, sweet, lunk-of-a-man is ideal casting. Lennie loves to stroke "soft things," often delicate things like a field mouse, but his heavy-handed caresses kill the tender things to which he's drawn. In Hempleman's sensitive portrayal, George admonishes Lennie, knowing that his friend is bound to repeat his failings.
They turn up late to the ranch in the Salinas Valley and meet an angry Boss, played by Robert-Bruce Brake. Jealousy consumes Boss's spitfire son Curly (Eric Graves); his young wife, played by beautiful Carolyn Pool, seeks out the men to flirt with. She's as lonely as anyone else, and in a touching scene in the barn where she and Lennie talk past each other but are grateful for company, Pool taps the real young woman beneath the discontented wife. Steve Sweere's foreman, Slim, is steady and fair. Warren C. Bowles finds the soul of Crooks, the bitter and disabled "colored" man. James Noah nicely realizes Candy, the lonely old farm hand, who was injured long ago on the ranch. John Catron and Shad Cooper play two young farmhands. All enter their roles as naturally as if these were their lives.
When casting is this apt, I am guessing that much of the director's work is taken care of. Richard Cook directs the play on Dean Holzman's simple sets of a bank on the Salinas River; a fieldhand's framed-in bunkhouse, cobbled together out of agricultural hemp sacks; and a stall in a barn where Crooks lives. Only the bare set by the river disappoints; Lennie chooses it as their place of refuge, and even Mike Kittel's subtle lighting cannot invest this place with the sense of cover and safety it requires.
That is a minor flaw. In sum, Park Square's Of Mice and Men is a showpiece of naturalistic theatre.
Of Mice and Men, November 29 - December 15, 2007. Thursdays - Saturdays 7:30 p.m. Tickets $33 - $36. 651- 291-7005 or www.parksquaretheatre.org. Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, 20, West 7th Place, St. Paul.