Westport Country Playhouse

Rosalind Friedman

A Classic Gets Class Act Treatment at the Westport Country Playhouse

At the Westport Country Playhouse, the current production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men dedicated to Paul Newman, honors his memory in the finest way.

When Newman became tragically ill, he was unable to direct this meaty play that examines the roles of men and women in the far West, California, during the great depression of the 1930’s; the job was given to Mark Lamos. For 17 years, Lamos was the Artistic Director of the Hartford Stage, and since then has spread his theatrical wings wide including Broadway, Off Broadway and opera in his many award-winning ventures.

L-R, Mark Mineart and Brian Hutchison in John Steinbeck's
Of Mice and Men.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Here, his powerfully authentic 21/2 hour production captures the spare poetry of the piece, underscoring the loneliness, dreams and terror men and woman experience trying to find their way in a very harsh world. Michael Yeargan’s rustic sets lit euphorically by Robert Wierzel, establishes a magnificent landscape of earth, mountains, and water, and a bunk house where the ranch-hands reside.

The cast costumed by Jane Greenwood is excellent. George and Lennie, portrayed by Brian Hutchinson and Mark Mineart, are two men on the road, desperate for work. Their performances are deeply moving. George takes care of the very large Lennie, who is feeble-minded but a strong worker. Although he threatens to leave Lennie, because of his terrible behavior, petting mice until they are dead, feeling the dress of a woman who accuses him of rape, George needs him to stave off loneliness. Lennie loves and trusts George, pure and simply.

At a new place, George warns Lennie repeatedly not to say anything or do anything. The characters they meet present problems. Curly, the son of the Boss (Mateo Gomez), who resents being short, has a frustrated, flirtatious wife, played shiningly by Betsy Morgan. When Candy’s dog is shot by Carlson (Tommy Nohily), because he is old and sick, Candy (Edward Seamon) realizes his time may soon be up, as well, and offers George and Lennie his savings to buy into their dream of a home and living off the fat of the land. Then there is Crooks, a part Kene Holliday, gives great credence to. John Steinbeck was very brave in 1937 to create this role of a black man, who expresses his feelings and explains his isolation in such explicit terms.

Matthew Montelongo is attractive as Slim and Sean Patrick Reilly, fine, as Whit. John Gromada’s Sound & Music are first-rate. B.H. Barry’s Fight Direction is superb: the pivotal point is Lennie’s fight with Curly in which Lennie takes an awful beating before destroying Curly’s hand. You know it is only a matter of time until Lennie’s sad ending. I hope that you will take the time to see this wonderful production of a true classic, Of Mice and Men, which will play only through November 1 at the Westport Country Playhouse.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO

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