'Of Mice and Men' - and Mastery

By Stasio, Marilyn | Variety, April 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

'Of Mice and Men' - and Mastery


Stasio, Marilyn, Variety


'Of Mice and Men' - and Mastery

Of Mice and Men

Longacre Theater; 1,087 seats; $147 top

Director: Anna D. Shapiro

Starring: James Franco, Chris O'Dowd

James Franco and Chris O'Dowd may be the big draws (and well deserving of all their kudos) in this emotionally devastating revival of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." But the other star of the show is helmer Anna D. Shapiro, who turns in an impeccably mounted production without a single blemish. The ensemble acting is flawless. The design work is breathtaking. And Steinbeck's Depression-based views on the human connections that are our only hope of survival in desperate times are just as relevant - even imperative - for living through our cruel present day.

The symbiotic relationship between smart, scrappy George (Franco) and his hulking, brain-damaged cousin, Lennie (O'Dowd), is at the heart of this 1937 play (adapted by Steinbeck from his own novella) about the broken, homeless men who wandered the country, living from farm job to farm job, during the Great Depression. The mood of that period is gorgeously but disturbingly rendered by the brilliant creative team assembled by Shapiro: Set designer Todd Rosenthal steps up with the grim vision of an empty, brooding sky hanging low over a vast parched landscape. Japhy Weideman gradually softens that Dust Bowl backdrop with a lighting scheme of earthy brown tones, while David Singer's haunting underscoring links to the lonely desert sounds supplied by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Truly, this is no-man's land.

As with all the other itinerant workers traveling together on these rough roads, the unlikely friendship between George and Lennie was first forged out of a mutual need for protection. But the two men have gone well beyond that initial dependency. Theirs is a strange but true friendship, one that Franco and O'Dowd hold between themselves with the tenderness of new parents raising a fragile child.

O'Dowd has mastered a small but refined repertoire of facial expressions and gestures that is quite astonishing. Going beyond that physical expressiveness, the depth and understanding he brings to the role render Lennie, quite simply, heartbreaking. …

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