NEW YORK: Next weekend the curtain goes down on the current Broadway production of Of Mice and Men. The biggest draw—especially for a lot of girls—is James Franco who plays George in the play.
However, the show has countless other things going for it—even more spectacular than Franco, though his Franco fan girls may beg to disagree.)
For starters, there’s the story, which is an American classic by John Steinbeck. It’s something many kids still have to read in school, albeit adapted on stage and screen several times.
George and Lennie are ranch workers going from town to town in California during the Great Depression. George has smarts and looks out for Lennie who is large, mentally slow and often does not know his own strength. While Lennie’s strength can serve him well on many ranch tasks, it can also get him—and George—into trouble.
George looks out for Lennie and they both chase a dream of owning their little acre of land where they can live quietly, have some animals and spend the rest of their days.
As with many great stories, their dream is ever elusive.
The director, Ana Shapiro (who also directed August Osage County on Broadway in 2008) brilliantly handles her cast and gets spot on performances from each of them.
Chris O’ Dowd (who is maybe better known by pop culture enthusiasts for his roles in the IT Crowd, HBO’s Girls, and Thor 2) is quite the acclaimed actor and writer in Ireland, and brings Lennie’s strength, vulnerability and tenderness to life. His portrayal has him capable of crushing a man’s hand in a fight one moment, and in the next sees him wistful over puppies and rabbits., All the time, he innocently puts all his trust in George.
There’s Jim Norton as Candy—a man getting on in years and wanting to “buy in” to George and Lennie’s dream. Actor Ron Cephas Jones, as the black man on the ranch effectively delivers a monologue filled with cynicism and sharp observations on loneliness and companionship.
Jim Parrack is also quite the commanding presence as Slim (a change from the sweet Southern mama’s boy Hoyt Fortenberry in True Blood). This is his first time on Broadway.
Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester plays Curley’s Wife. I’m not quite sure if I despise or pity her character—perhaps maybe both as it could well be the effect they were looking to achieve.
The amazing set design in a palette of browns and rusts, captures the mood and spirit of the time and place.
Ana Shapiro, her company of actors and everyone involved in the production have once again, most masterfully, brought life to a well-loved, classic novella.