THEATER | Park Square’s “Of Mice and Men” brings the beauty of John Steinbeck’s tale to life

Print

John Steinbeck’s classic tragedy Of Mice and Men is an immortal triumph. It’s set in the Depression era but never grows dated: a timeless, poignant portrait of the human condition.

George and Lennie, lifelong buddies, knock around from town to town, picking up what work they can to keep breath in their bodies. They don’t ask for much from life, just to find the next job and entertain their daydream of maybe someday having a modest little place they can call their own. Odds are they’ll grow old and die without their prospects ever amounting to much. They do, however, have each other and have arrived at a ranch, where they’re taken on as seasonal hands. Fate steps in, bringing their dream so close to reality the fellas can just about reach out and touch it. Then comes a cruelly arbitrary moment in which their lives are changed forever. Existentialists have nothing on Steinbeck when it comes to an author putting his or her characters through hell.

Park Square Theatre’s production of this enduring masterwork is, by and large, a success. Terry Hempleman, one of the Twin Cities’ more gifted actors, gives a sourly pragmatic performance as George, the brains of the duo, who has to constantly watch out for Lennie as well as figure out where their next meal is coming from. Zach Curtis is capable and does a good job of bringing out the sweetheart in Lennie, a great big galoot with the strength of a horse and the IQ of a stump. It’s a minor, quite bearable distraction that Curtis sounds a lot like John Malkovich; if you’re going to sound like someone, it may as well be one of the best.

of mice and men, playing through december 18 at park square theatre. for tickets ($20-$36) and information, see parksquaretheatre.org.

Television and film veteran James Noah is something of a ringer, bringing stark immediacy to the pathetic figure of Candy, a broken down old man who sweeps out the bunkhouse, basically just waiting to die. Carolyn Pool, another strongly gifted actor, is fine as the flighty sexpot who decides, after two weeks of marriage, that she’s had enough of her overbearing, free-with-his-fists husband. Dave Gangler enlivens the hateful Curley with stubborn, almost seething belligerence. David Mann portrays the thoughtfully even-tempered Slim with sure, understated skill. Ryan Parker Knox works well as Carlson, a ranch hand who’s just one of the guys, always ready for a hand of cards; and Shad Cooper hits his mark as the minor character Whit, one more of the guys. The casting drawbacks are Warren C. Bowles as Crooks—the isolated and embittered black worker—and Robert Bruce Brake as the ranch boss. Bowles is an area veteran who, from one role to another, consistently gives the same serviceable performance. Brake overacts, exaggerating gestures and inflections with no sense of subtlety.

Artistic director Richard Cook paces the production well—the two hours seem to go by in half the time—and clearly understands ensemble acting. A glaring gaffe, though, is the unconvincing fight choreography. Also, Lennie’s tussle with Curley’s struggling wife. The physical scenes simply do not come off.

The beauty of Steinbeck’s play is intact. Whether you’ve never seen Of Mice and Men or have watched it countless times, Park Square Theatre’s production is well worth attending.

This event is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.