Some plays you need to see because they are important. Some productions are must-see because they are done so damned well.
The New Village Arts production of “Of Mice And Men,” John Steinbeck’s Depression-era saga of friendship, dreams and innocence, falls nicely into both categories.
George (Justin Lang) and Lennie (Manny Fernandes) are buddies who live the itinerant life as ranch hands, going where the work is. George, “the smart one,” does the talking for the pair. Lennie is huge physically but small mentally; he can do more work than two men, but his mental limitations get him in trouble. He frightens easily and is not aware of his own strength.
George and Lennie have fled the trouble Lennie got into in Weed and have made it to the Salinas valley to start again. Their fellow ranch hands, an assortment of solitary misfits, are bemused that these two come as a set, and fascinated by (not to mention suspicious and a little jealous of) their dream of buying a place of their own.
Director Daren Scott (whose own portrayal of Lennie several years ago remains one of my favorite theatrical memories) has a good feel for the rhythm of the piece and the central relationship of these two men. He gets top-notch help from Tim Wallace’s wooden-slat set that allows the audience to see light, terrain and approaching characters.
Justin Lang is excellent as George, both protective of and thoroughly exasperated by the innocence and vulnerability that lead Lennie into trouble time and again. But George needs the dream, and Lennie is the keeper of it; Lennie’s childlike trust that it will come true somehow keeps George going as well.
Manny Fernandes’ Lennie is a marvel: a magnificently guileless child-man without a trace of meanness whose love for soft, small things seems endearingly at odds with his size and the amount of weight he can hoist. This is a difficult character to portray and Fernandes never breaks character, never overdoes it.
This cast also boasts a wonderful performance from Jack Missett as Candy, an old hand who wants out of the migrant life and asks to buy a stake in George and Lennie’s dream. Candy’s heartbreak will be yours, too, when he weeps alone, curled up in a ball on his bunk, after finally agreeing to have his faithful but aged, blind and “useless” dog put down.
Kyle Lucy, as the boss’ son Curley, and Kelly Iversen, as his desperate housewife, add danger and temptation to the mix.
John DeCarlo, as the most reasonable hand Slim, and Durwood Murray as the black hand Crooks (who is housed by himself) add depth to the story.
Other pluses are the original music by bass/mandolin duo MondoBasso, Kristianne Kurner’s sweat-stained costumes and Chris Renda’s fine lighting design.
“Of Mice And Men” is Greek tragedy, American style, well-conceived and wonderfully performed. New Village Arts gives us an experience to treasure.
“Of Mice And Men” plays through Nov. 25 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.
Thursday and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
For tickets call (760) 433-3245 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.