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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Good Production of
Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men
at Actors Theatre Of San Francisco

Also see Richard's review of On the Town

in celebration of John Steinbeck’s 100th birthday, the Actors Theatre of San Francisco is presenting Steinbeck's classic American tragedy Of Mice and Men. The production, co-directed by Paul D’Addario and Kenneth Vanderberg, shows craftsmanship and skill.

John Steinbeck wrote this dialogue-heavy drama while living in nearby Los Gatos. His express intent was that it would be adapted to the stage. The piece became more famous on film with several versions, the most famous being the 1939 Lewis Milestone film starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Lenny and Burgess Meredith as George. The role of the mildly retarded farm worker was probably Lon Chaney Jr.'s greatest. There was a television film in 1981 with Randy Quaid as Lenny and Robert Blake as George. The latest version was the theatrical film directed by Gary Sinise in 1992. He played George to John Malkovich’s Lenny. Mice was made into an opera by Carlisle Floyd and played at Kennedy Center last year.

The story takes place in the 1930s in the Central Valley of California. It centers on the loyalty and friendship of two migrant farm workers that drift from ranch to ranch for $50 a month plus room and board. George has taken over the responsibility for his cousin, the childlike Lennie who constantly seems to fall into trouble when working on the ranches. They have a dream to own a place in the country where they can grow their own food and have their own room. Lennie wants rabbits since he loves to "pet soft things." Lennie's favorite story is George's repeating all of the wonderful things they will have on their little piece of land. George says, "We will live like kings." Their dreams end in tragedy, a familiar tale in this American story. The story is pure and lean as the original fable.

The superb cast in Of Mice and Men runs the spectrum of human emotions from misconceived intentions to jealous rage, physical pain, strong friendship and confusion. Each actor in the cast is pitch perfect and they all have the perfect Okie speech pattern downpat, especially when describing cathouses in the nearby town. Veteran actor Christian Phillips turns in a tour de force as Lenny. He has a powerful stage presence and stays away from the much parodied film performance of Lon Chaney Jr. Ian Hirsch is quietly brilliant as George. He is able to capture the essence of the farmhand character. John Krause is touching as Candy, and he is wonderful in the scene in which he describes the night he spent in a luxurious bordello in Bakersfield. John Kevin Thomas captures the bitterness of the isolated black man on the ranch. The only female in the cast is talented actress Jennifer Welch. She is properly sexy and simmering as the luminous wife of Curly, the son of the ranch owner. Welch is excellent in her big scene in the second act when she says "I wasn’t meant to live like this - I’m from Salinas."

Jon Bernson provides live music with his own score for the scene changes. The songs are reminiscent of what the migrant workers might have sung. Biz Duncan's sets give a certain rustic feel of a bunkhouse on a ranch. It is interesting to watch the actors put together the bunkhouse set during a scene change in the first act while Bernson sings and plays his guitar stage right.

Of Mice and Men has an open end run at the theatre located at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call the box office at 415-296-9179 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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