Monday, April 9, 2012

"Of Mice and Men" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

"Nobody gets to heaven and nobody gets no land," says old Crook, summing up in one sentence what John Steinbeck would write about his entire life. Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," first a novella then turned into a play by the author himself, was written in the desperate 1930s. Yet, with the passage of time, it has become, if anything, even more believable today. This Theatreworks production, directed by Robert Kelley, is a powerhouse.

George (Jos Viramontes) and Lenny (AJ Meijer) are two wandering farmhands, looking for work as they try to build up a stake to someday buy their own place. George is sharp, but Lenny has the brain of a child inside the body of a superman. George's stories of the glory he and Lenny will find in their heaven-on-earth future are enthusiastically adopted by Candy (Gary S. Martinez) and Crook (Charles Branklyn), each hoping to find his own place within George's dream.

But then we meet Curley (Harold Pierce), and especially Curley's wife (Lena Hart), a small-town dreamer who pictures herself a movie star in Hollywood, and we all know how the story must end.

There are so many levels to this story. Poverty is one -- poverty of pocket and spirit. Steinbeck gives us insights into each character, all doomed to remain exactly where they are, even as they move from farm camp to farm camp, earning a little each month then blowing it all in the cathouse. The fate of poor Candy's dog, old and worn out, becomes the truest metaphor of all.

We have all read "Of Mice and Men" along with "The Grapes of Wrath." George's relationship with Lenny has been immortalized in movies and even Bugs Bunny cartoons. So we all know what's going to happen. And yet, the ending still shocks us. The real farm area Steinbeck was writing about was just down the road. It's all familiar and frightening. Expected and unexpected. Beautiful theater.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Of Mice and Men" Four Stars. Acting, directing, staging and story are all winners. And you get John Steinbeck too.

Everyone will recognize how fine a job Viramontes and Meijer do as George and Lenny but we want to give special credit to Martinez's Candy. He begins as a Walter Brennan clone (we're looking for the limp) but by the end of the show we recognize in Candy the soul of the entire enterprise. He has no chance -- but we can't help rooting for him anyway.
"Of Mice and Men"
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through April 29

Photo credits: Mark S. Kitaoka and Tracy Martin

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