While it’s never made clear by playwright John Steinbeck how George (James Franco) and Lennie (Chris O’Dowd) met and became fast friends – Are they cousins? Did a horse really kick Lennie in the head? – they simply are.
In this stark and no-nonsense limited engagement revival of the 1938 drama that is ably directed by Anna D. Shapiro, James Franco and Chris O’Dowd are part of a terrific ensemble, bringing to life the dreams of the desperate, the weary and downtrodden workers in the Salinas Valley of California during the great depression of the 1930’s with atmospheric music by David Singer and scenic design by Todd Rosenthal.
Looking out for each other and looking for work that will enable them to fulfill their dream of owning their own homestead and living off “the fat of the land” they land new jobs in a place that Lennie instinctively feels is bad, foreshadowing all that will tragically follow. Both give assured performances and their chemistry is palpable.
These two unlikely buddies find solace in their long term friendship. They need each other to survive. The dominant and mostly patient George is the protector of the childlike but strong like an ox Lennie having the fortitude to look after his mentally disabled friend who has a knack for getting into trouble because he loves to pet nice, soft things – mice, rabbits and pups. Petting and unintentionally killing them in the process.
The other ranch hands find it strange that these two men are so close and have been traveling together and that George speaks for both of them while Lennie smiles and laughs and picks up words and phrases but has trouble remembering – always ready to hear, like a bedtime story, what George has envisioned for their future.
An uncertain future for sure as they try to adapt to their new surroundings. There is the old ranch hand Candy (Jim Norton) with his stinky old dog that Carlson (Joel Marsh Garland) wants to shoot. When Candy finds out about the plan to buy some land he offers his life savings to be a part of their new life.
The boss’s short son Curley (Alex Morf) takes an immediate dislike to Lennie. He likes to intimidate and start fights, usually over his pretty and fragile wife (Leighton Meester) who seeks out the other men to talk to (in particular the handsome Slim – Jim Parrack) as her marriage isn’t what she thought it would be and still dreams of being an actress.
Also on hand is Crooks (Ron Cephas Jones) a black worker who is not allowed to be with the others, but who manages to befriend Lennie and who also would love to join them in their escapist pipe dream.
When Curley’s wife decides to leave, she accidently meets Lennie. They speak and she innocently lets him caress her hair that ultimately leads to the stunning and shocking ending that leaves the audience stunned into silence. OF MICE AND MEN is a sad and searing revival with very strong performances – particularly those of Franco and O’Dowd and Norton.
Photos: Richard Phibbs
Tags: No Comments