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‘Of Mice and Men’ brought to life at LB Playhouse

July 17th, 2008 · No Comments · Vicki's View

mandm-review.jpgBy Vicki Paris Goodman
Arts and Entertainment Editor

With his classic drama Of Mice and Men, playwright John Steinbeck certainly provided all the expressive power and explosive emotion any theater’s production staff could ask for. And the Long Beach Playhouse has pulled out all the stops.
On what is easily the most fantastic set of the season (by scenic designer Daniel Wheeler), actors Michael Durack (George) and Ed McBride (Lennie) meticulously establish an unusual chemistry. Their characters’ relationship must convince us that a bright and hard-working man has committed his life to looking out for the well-being of a mentally retarded buddy to whom he’s not even related. This is some sacrifice considering big, strong, intellectually challenged Lennie’s tendency to kill small animals, and sometimes even people, who he has no intention of harming.
In 1937 California, George and Lennie are migrant workers forced to migrate more often than they’d like, due to poor well-meaning Lennie’s inability to stay out of trouble. Their current change of employment has brought them to a ranch where the proprietor and other workers are mostly decent enough, and pretty much forgiving of Lennie’s inadequacies in the smarts department.
Durack successfully walks a fine line between wanting to rid himself of the burden of Lennie and believably caring enough to stay hooked up with his big oaf of a pal. McBride simply becomes Lennie– nothing more needs to be said.
Slim (Lawrence Briskey), another worker who seems to be the quickest study with regard to George and Lennie’s circumstances, proves a welcome ally and a likable character. Briskey’s adept portrayal makes Slim centered and dependable, and serves as a calming influence amidst the generally worrisome sense that something terrible is about to happen.
Candy, as skillfully played by Nick Cook, delivers an affable welcome to George and Lennie that ever so gradually morphs into startling desperation. And A. Lee Wilson, Jr. beautifully handles the role of the black man Crooks with an angry defensiveness that reluctantly yields to a friendlier resignation.
The one loose cannon of the men is Curley (Dylan Bailey), who sports a small-guy-syndrome to beat all. From the get go, he has it in for the humongous Lennie. With his jealousy out of control, and with a bored new wife who regularly seeks out the workers for nothing more than some conversation, Curly is troublemaker extraordinaire. Bailey’s performance perfectly captures the essence of the humorless no-goodnik.
As the play progresses, we want George and Lennie to realize their dream of buying a small ranch of their own almost as much as they want it. George has found the coveted property, and the price seems doable, if only Lennie’s behavior stays in check long enough to make it happen.
Michael Ross directs the wonderful cast, which also includes Roger K. Weiss, Christina Nigra, Todd Rew and Eddie Teran.
Wheeler’s set design brilliantly incorporates the bunkhouse, the barn, the stableman’s quarters and a wilderness area near the river, all on one stage. Vertical support columns, cleverly missing their middle sections, suggest the building’s structure without obscuring views of the action. An amazing job!
In the end, facing one of literature’s most classic and timeless moral dilemmas, George makes a stunning decision. His final action of the play had me asking myself what I would have done in his shoes. I still haven’t come up with my answer.
Of Mice and Men continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through August 2. Special summer ticket prices are in effect through September 1, during which time general admission tickets will be $18, $15 for seniors, $10.00 for students with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees on July 7, 13, 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at www.lbph.com.

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