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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Of Mice and Men: Shakespeare Theatre Takes
a Walk on the Proletariat Side

Also see Bob's review of Of Thee I Sing

Of Mice and Men
Graham Winton and Mark Mineart
Naturally, royalty is often center stage at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ. However, in a sort of 180 degree turn, it is now presenting John Steinbeck's 1937 classic examination of depression era migrant farm workers, Of Mice and Men. Yet there is a similarity in that Shakespeare and Steinbeck both brilliantly capture universal and timeless essentials of the human condition which speak directly to our own plebian lives.

Of Mice and Men exists both as a short novel and a play. Neither is an adaptation as Steinbeck initially conceived and wrote the work as a combined short novel and play. The title derives from the writings of 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns:

The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang oft agly (often go astray)
And leave us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy!

The severely mentally deficient, well meaning, but dangerously powerful giant Lennie and his friend, companion and protector George arrive in the Salinas Valley where they are to begin a new job. They fled from their last job after Lennie was wrongly accused of rape by a woman panicked at his confused actions. George comforts Lennie by telling him of their dream of buying a small ranch of their own ("Tell me about the rabbits, George").

Their dream becomes a real possibility when they strike up a friendship with the elderly ranch hand Candy, who has saved up enough money to put Lennie and George's dream within reach. However, Curley, the viciously cruel son of the ranch superintendent, and his sluttish wife present them with obstacles which may be insuperable.

The themes of our need for the warmth, caring and companionship of others, the sustaining importance of hopes and dreams, and the tenuousness of the human condition are efficiently and concisely illuminated here. This is a straight forward, well made old fashioned play which moves swiftly to its poignant dénouement. There is foreshadowing and tight construction. I cannot help but wonder of the reaction of some who denigrate well made plays for being confining and out of date.

The cast is exemplary. There is a naturalness to the ensemble performance which makes Marion Williams' sets and costumes feel lived in. Mark Mineart is a fully nuanced Lennie, simultaneously fearsome and sympathetic. Graham Winton is a very human George, humane, but not without bad temper. In the hands of Mineart and Winton, Lennie and George's odd couple relationship is always believable.

Jim Mohr as the elderly Candy who finds renewed cause for hope, Marc Aden as the tightly wound, cruel Candy, Paul Niebanck as the decent crew chief, mule skinner Slim, and young Ron Brice as the elderly Crooks, whose loneliness is intensified by racial discrimination, are especially impressive in their verisimilitude. Victoria Mack, who has been most impressive in a variety of roles at STNJ, again delivers first rate work in the pivotal role of Curley's wife.

As noted, director Joe Discher delivers a straight forward, naturalistic production. This is no small feat. Any attempt at a more revelatory approach would have been misguided.

Of Mice and Men is a prime example of a clear and concise work whose riches are clearly and immediately revealed. However, it is neither simple nor simplistic. It sticks in the mind. I have found this to be the case ever since I first read it as a child a half century ago. It is quite a life lesson. I recommend that you get over to the Shakespeare Theatre and experience it yourself.

Of Mice and Men continues performances through October 3, 2004 -Eves: Tuesday - Sunday (except 9/28, 9/29 and 10/3); Mats: Saturdays & Sundays - at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600; online www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

OF MICE AND MEN
by John Steinbeck; directed by Joe Discher

Cast (in order of appearance):

George: Graham Winton
Lennie: Mark Mineart
Candy: Jim Mohr
The Boss: Joe Mancuso
Curley: Marc Aden Gray
Curley's Wife: Victoria Mack
Slim: Paul Niebanck
Carlson: Michael Daly
Whit: Chris Landis
Crooks: Ron Brice

UPCOMING ATTRACTIONS:

MACBETH
by William Shakespeare
starring Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robbins
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte
October 19 - November 19, 2004

ILLYRIA
Adapted from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
Book, Music and Lyrics by Peter Mills
Directed by Cara Reichel
November 30 - December 26, 2004


Photo: Gerry Goodstein


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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