By: John Steinbeck
Shattered Globe Theatre at Victory Gardens Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Phone: ( 773 ) 871-3000; $25
Through March 19
If there's one major flaw about John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, it's our society's over-familiarity with it. We all know what a huge downer it is since the majority of Americans were forced to read the Nobel Prize-winning author's novella in high school.
And don't forget the widespread lampooning of the mentally challenged character of Lennie in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons ( the rabbit-loving dog who says, 'Which way did he go George, huh, which way did he go?' ) to Must-See-TV sitcoms ( One Will & Grace episode has Grace confessing, 'I did a bad thing!' ) .
So why in the world would we want to subject ourselves to such a depressing Depression-era tale in these light-deprived days of winter? And how can we stop ourselves from snickering whenever one of Lennie's cliché rabbit lines is dropped?
Don't be deterred by these concerns. Otherwise, you'll miss out on Shattered Globe Theatre's powerful production of a great American classic.
Making her directorial debut, long-time Shattered Globe ensemble member Eileen Niccolai leads a crack team of great actors and clever designers to illuminate Steinbeck's own stage adaptation of his novella. Everything resonates with immediacy and honesty in the close confines of the upstairs Victory Gardens Theater studio space.
Such proximity to the actors allows you admire their skills at fleshing out Steinbeck's doomed dreamers. Brian Pudil is a grounded and low-key George, the protector to John Harrell's clumsy giant Lennie. Harrell thankfully doesn't overdo Lennie's 'retarded talk' and almost never betrays his character's child-like condition.
The rest of the ensemble is also very strong, each believable in their roles of migrant farm workers and owners. Richard Baker's codgery Candy is a heart-breaker, while Lester Keefe's ants-in-his-pants scrappy rancher son Curley is menacing ( though a trifle too manicured ) . Paula Stevens as Curley's Wife is appropriately predatorily vixen-ish and vulnerable, while John Nyrere Frazier's stable hand Crooks makes the most of his cameo ( and Steinbeck's minor plea for racial tolerance, despite the 'n-word' bomb that gets dropped in the play ) .
The technical aspects of Shattered Globe's Of Mice and Men are also exemplary. Kevin Hagan's brilliant unit set of plywood and unfinished lumber gives off the golden glow of Californian alfalfa fields and also ingeniously doubles as farm and bunkhouse interiors. Hagan also accentuates his set with his lighting design that mimics a crisp sunset and hothouse summer days. The gorgeous sound design work of Andrew Hansen also adds immeasurably to the proceedings, particularly the sounds an eerie wind chime played against the clanking of a distant game of horseshoes.
Shattered Globe's wonderful Of Mice and Men reminds you of how Steinbeck was a great master of foreshadowing and a skilled manipulator of his characters' emotions. The hope and longing that fills Of Mice and Men still tugs at your heart and deserves to be seen, even if you know how tragically it turns out.