OF MICE AND MEN visually stunning at TheatreWorks

(Left) AJ Meijer as "Lennie," Jos Viramontes as "George," and Lena Hart as "Curley's wife" (Center) Gary Martinez as "Candy" and AJ Meijer as "Lennie" (Right) Jos Viramontes as "George," AJ Meijer as "Lennie,"Charles Branklyn as "Crook," and Gary S. Martinez as "Candy"in OF MICE AND MEN at TheatreWorks. Photos by Tracy Martin

OF MICE AND MEN: Drama by John Steinbeck and directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View, CA. 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org. April 4 -29, 2012

Of Mice and Men at TheatreWorks has all the superb production values we have come to expect from this multi-award winning group. It is visually stunning with great acting and taut direction yet there was only a partial standing ovation and not the full spontaneous uprising often seen at the Mountain View venue. This may be due to expected horrendous coup de grâce ending that had the audience riveted to their seats and brought a tear to eyes of a grown man sitting nearby.

Steinbeck’s first works were short stories published in 1932 under the title of Pastures of Heaven chronicled the arrival of newcomers to the Salinas Valley full of hope and dreams with their lives intertwining. It is a classic California story and as the dreams whither only the land endures. By 1939 Steinbeck became the champion of the disenfranchised and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for the dust bowl saga The Grapes of Wrath.

In 1937, two years before writing that seminal novel he wrote the novella Of Mice and Men fully planning it to be a stage play. He wrote the script for the stage production, first produced on Broadway in 1937 directed by directed by George S. Kaufman. It starred Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie and ran for 207 performances. Since then there have been two movies, the most notable is the 1939 version starring Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. that was faithful to play and is well worth revisiting.

The original play was written in three acts beginning with the idyllic scene along the Salinas River where George Milton (Jos Viramontes) and Lennie Small (AJ Meuijer) are spending the night before continuing on to their jobs as ranch hands. Lennie is a slow witted hulk with limited recall skills. George has become his de facto protector and purveyor of the dream to own that elusive piece of land where Lennie can raise rabbits and they can live “off the fat of the land.”

On the job they buck bales of wheat 10 to 11 hours a day and share the bunk house with cowboy Slim (Chad Deverman), insensitive Carlson ( Michael Ray Wisely) and old kind hearted Candy (Gary Martinez), who lost a hand working on the farm for which he got $250 indemnity, and Whit (Josiah Polhemus). All are inured to their way of life living uneventful existences of card playing, story telling and discussion of their trips “to town.” All avoid hot-headed Curly (Harold Pierce) and his unnamed wife (Lena Hart). Then there is Crooks (Charles Branklyn) a black man relegated to the barn due to rampant racism.

Title of the play is taken from Robert Burns’ poem The Mouse: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

TheatreWorks’ ensemble actors bring each of the characters to life and under Robert Kelley’s sensitive direction you will feel the torment of Lennie and George. There are touching scenes that will have you reaching out to individual characters. One such scene involving the fate of Candy’s ancient dog is a heart stopper and Gary Martinez handles the role with unspoken passion.

AJ Meijer’s superb interpretation of the loveable mentally challenged Lennie is matched by Jos Viramonte’s under-playing of George. Charles Branklyn makes you feel his racist isolation and his desire to join Lennie, George and Candy to that elusive piece of land where they can be free reaches across the footlights.

Visually the evening is flawless and this reviewer highly recommends it as a must see production. Running time 2hours and 20 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com