Sunday, February 08, 2004

Of Mice and Men (Beck Center)

Classic ‘OF MICE AND MEN’ gets fine production at Beck

John Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest writers. His works have received numerous awards, been translated into many languages and have been revised into films, plays and operas.

Steinbeck’s deep roots in the earth and understanding of the people of California’s Salinas Valley become vividly clear in each of his writings. His keen observations and powerful descriptions of the human condition suck the reader into his fictional worlds. Noted for his views on social values, he championed the forgotten and disenfranchised while affirming the strength of the human spirit.

Steinbeck was not only a writer for America, but a writer for the world, as exemplified by his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. His impressive list of works include “Grapes of Wrath,” “East of Eden,” “Cannery Row,” and “The Pearl.”

Published in 1937, Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” was made into movies in 1939 with Burgess Meredith as George and Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lennie , in 1981 with Robert Blake (George) and Randy Quaid (Lenny) and in 1992 with Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie). It was transformed into an acclaimed opera by Carlisle Floyd.

The story is based on the 1785 poem “To A Mouse,” by Scottish poet Robert Burns which states that the best laid schemes of mice and men matter little, as no matter how hard or well we plan, something stops us from achieving our goals.

The story centers on lonely and alienated George and Lennie, drifters who dream of a place to call their own. After numerous incidents in which the kind hearted, but huge, hulking and simple-minded Lennie gets into trouble, the two find themselves, once again, working for meager wages on a ranch. As usual, problems arise and tragedy ensues.

The Beck Center’s production of ‘OF MICE AND MEN’ is a well conceived if slowly paced production. Director Fred Sternfeld’s pacing brings out the meaning of the lines, but makes the evening a little long. Not boring, just long.

The acting is generally excellent. Robert McCoy, as the simple Lenny gives a fine performance. He does not play the role as a retard, just as a slow-thinking, logically challenged childlike person. This portrayal is nicely nuanced, as is Greg Del Torto’s George. Nowhere in his performance does Del Torto give us the feeling, so often found in interpretations of this role, that George is using Lenny as his whipping boy. We see and feel real concern. Almost of love of father for child.

Glenn Colerider, as the old, one-handed laborer, is compelling. The rest of the cast interprets their roles well, with the exception of Brian Honohan whose Curley, the boss’s son, is basically unbelievable.

Richard Gould’s settings are astounding. The bunkhouse, barn and outside areas are works of art. Richard Ingraham has added some fine background sounds and fine underscoring musical interludes. Jeffrey Smart’s costumes are era perfect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though slowly paced, ‘OF MICE AND MEN’ is an excellent production of a classic Steinbeck piece of literature. It is a fine opportunity for students and those interested in the classics to see a staged version of an important American tale.