Lead performances light up Dramaworks' 'Of Mice and Men'
Anyone would be fortunate to have a friend like George or Lennie, the itinerant farmworker protagonists of John Steinbeck's Depression-era drama Of Mice and Men. In a world that regards them as disposable, they stick to each other through thick and thin. In Palm Beach Dramaworks' rendition of the 1937 play adapted from the classic novella, John Leonard Thompson's and Brendan Titley's performances are the blazing campfire around which everything warms its hands. Thompson's natural intensity is ideally suited for the tightly wound George. As the brains in the duo, George is fiercely protective of his mentally challenged buddy. He senses that disaster is right around the corner, even as he cherishes the dream he spins of the farm he and Lennie will one day own. Titley quickly commands equal measures of sympathy and dread for the child-like Lennie, whose limited intellect is unable to govern his frightening physical strength. Director J. Barry Lewis' poetic approach lends dignity to the undernourished lives Steinbeck portrays, without sacrificing the tension that leads to the story's tragic conclusion. His use of scene-setting descriptive passages from the book is especially effective. Michael Amico's set, combining weathered wood and a hint of mountainous landscape, deftly suggests the ranch where George and Lennie have come to work and the verdant Salinas valley that cradles it. John Hall's lighting design rises from subtle backdrop to visual feast in the devastating climax, when a wash of golden light through gaping boards caresses Lennie's violent outburst. The male-dominated world is ably filled out by Dennis Creaghan as the elderly, gossipy Candy; Frank Converse as the no-nonsense Boss; Cliff Burgess as the handsome, fair-minded Slim; Wayne Steadman as the trigger-happy Carlson; Ricky Waugh as Whit; and W. Paul Bodie as the cynical, lone black ranch hand Crooks. Christopher Halladay's performance as Curley, the boss's jealous son, has the right amount of flimsy bravado... ...Betsy Graver delivers a smoldering performance as Curley's wife, looking fetching in the feather-accented heels chosen by costume designer by Leslye Menshouse. Dramaworks' touching production makes it easy to understand why George and Lennie remain two of the most iconic characters in American literature.