Saturday, July 4, 2015

Review: "Of Mice and Men"

At People's Light and Theatre Company's, director David Bradley keeps John Steinbeck's 1937 classic "Of Mice and Men" stripped to its bare essence, says critic Wendy Rosenfield.

Review: "Of Mice and Men"

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By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER

Of Mice and Men is so well-known and universally taught in American middle and high schools, you’d think a staged production, such as People’s Light and Theatre Company’s, must go out of its way to distinguish itself. But despite plenty of obvious contemporary parallels, director David Bradley keeps John Steinbeck’s 1937 classic, well, classic, and stripped to its bare essence.

Everyone remembers George and Lennie — that mismatched pair of bindlestiffs looking for farm work, hoping to save up some scratch and “live off the fatta the lan’ ” — but this production takes its time in highlighting the story’s peripheral characters, the men and sole woman on this farm who pass for a community.

We soak in Peter DeLaurier’s energetic guilelessness as old, crippled Candy, whose tenderness toward his spotted, bandaged cur is as much a threat to the men’s fidelity to autonomy as is George’s stewardship of feeble-minded Lennie. Lou Ferguson’s exiled black stablehand Crooks slides from embittered and cruel to gentle and beseeching with hardly a nudge. Bradley encourages Jerry Richardson to spread out as long, lean, taciturn mule skinner Slim, and, in the greatest casting surprise, presents a coiled-up, spring-loaded Chris Faith as the boss’ son, Curley, perpetually thrusting his chin and bouncing on the balls of his feet, ready to hurl the entirety of his small frame at anyone unlucky enough to get caught in his path.

Also surprising: Ian and Jessica Bedford, married in real life, play, respectively, Lennie and Curley’s Wife. It’s a real accomplishment that the scene that determines Lennie’s fate is so taut you forget you may also be watching the pantomime of some seriously distressing spousal abuse. And though Pete Pryor’s George ultimately, disappointingly, remains a blank slate, both Bedfords deliver.

Ian, a mountainous figure, has a shaved, sloping head that leads when he walks, his jaw slack and open. He’s always slightly out of control and troubled; there’s a tension-heightening inevitability here that isn’t always present in other productions. Conversely, as costumed by Marla Jurglanis, Jessica appears as a red-heeled, downy-haired, flouncy pink bird, blown off course into this drab world of weatherbeaten men and materials. Her moods, too, are changeable as the wind. She chatters and sneers, pouts and threatens, anything to connect with anyone who hears her, even if they don’t listen.

Wilson Chin’s spare set, a flat expanse of downward-sloping wooden boards, and Christopher Colucci’s Americana-themed sound, with its wistful harmonica, guitar and fiddle interludes, carry home a sense of windswept loneliness. But this production’s most distinguishing feature is its individuals, each one distinct and distinctly alone among his or her fellows.

Through March 25 at People’s Light and Theatre, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Tickets: $25-$45. Information: 610-644-3500 or www.peopleslight.org.

 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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