A classic revisited

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck
Directed by Eric Parness
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Jan Hus Playhouse
351 East 74th Street (560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 17)
Review by Elias Stimac

If you have never seen a production of the 1930s play Of Mice and Men, hurry out to the Jan Hus Playhouse and catch this latest revival by the Oberon Theatre Ensemble.

This touching, triumphant retelling of John Steinbeck's drama focuses on two men down on their luck during the Depression. Cynical George (Jarel Davidow) is tired of the road and even more tired of his traveling companion, the slow-witted Lenny (Ed Jewett); however, he takes on the responsibility of watching over Lenny like an older brother, despite the fact that Lenny's uncontrollable strength has lost them jobs and forced them to go on the lam from time to time. They put down stakes at a California ranch where they earn their keep by moving bags of barley, and George is able to keep Lenny contained long enough to save some money. He starts making plans to purchase a place of their own one day with an old-timer named Candy (Richard Kohn). But Lenny's innocent obsession with animals and women eventually leads him into trouble when his encounter with an unhappy bride (Jane Courtney) leads to terrible trouble.

Also intriguing, Steinbeck's story sounds so authentic that viewers may feel as if they have been transported back in time. Eric Parness took the masterful script and focused on the gritty characters and relationships. His staging and pacing fit perfectly with Steinbeck's train-ride of a tale.

Parness's carefully chosen ensemble comprised 10 talented actors, each of whom seized their roles with relish and made indelible impressions. Davidow was sturdy and scrappy as George, a regular Joe saddled with an irregular partner. As Lenny, Jewett downplayed his character's shortcomings -- appearing almost coherent at times -- but sensitively modulated his performance throughout the two-act piece. Kohn was smart as a whip as the crusty Candy, and Courtney was fickle and flirtatious as the spoiled girl whose marriage to the ranch boss's son quickly evaporates. Bill Fairbairn solidly portrayed the no-nonsense ranch boss, and Philip Emeott was appropriately irascible as his bratty offspring. David Stitler was stoic as Slim, giving the character a formidable resonance. Patrick Melville and Scot Carlisle were strong presences as the other ranch hands. Timothy Jenkins gave an affecting portrayal of the lone African-American in the camp who nobly rose above the fact that he's forced to sleep in the barn and do menial chores.

The technical aspects of the show were equally impressive. The setting by WT McRae was extremely versatile, and was easily adjusted from scene to scene by the agile cast members. Aaron J. Mason added a subdued lighting scheme to the stage picture, and Sidney Shannon provided realistic period costumes, although Lenny's baseball cap seemed a bit too contemporary. Most enticing were the sound contributions by Michael Juarez, a mix of music and effects that sounded crystal clear. Amy Henault served as assistant director, and Nicole Godino guided the credible fight direction.

Of Mice and Men plays in repertory with Cockfighthers by Johnna Adams.

 Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac