The marvelous 1992 film Of Mice and Men, which starred John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, would seem to be the quintessential interpretation of John Steinbeck's story. But it takes on even more power when it's done well in live theater.
The Village Players do it well. Very well.
The play, which runs through March 23 in the Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave., has a strong cast, led by Richard Furlong as Lennie and Ben Lumbrezer as George.
Together, George and Lennie make the perfect man: George is intelligent and savvy about the hardships of life, Lennie, who is mentally handicapped, is strong, simple, and innocent. The pair are farm laborers, traveling together, looking for work during the Great Depression. And as they travel, they dream.
"Tell me about the rabbits, George," Lennie begs, and George, after much prodding, begins the story of the farm they will buy someday, the vegetables they will raise, and the livestock they will tend, including the furry rabbits that will be Lennie's special responsibility, because he loves touching soft things. George doesn't like to tell the story too often, for although Lennie believes it is only a matter of time until they have the farm, George knows that it's only a dream for men such as them.
The hard work of a barley harvest brings George and Lennie to a farm run by The Boss (Tom Davis), whose son, Curly (Jim Pickle), is the foreman. Curly is a small man who tries to make up for his lack of physical stature with cruelty. And lately, the cruelty is fueled by jealousy, for he has gotten married to a beautiful woman. Curly's Wife (Tiffany Noel Taylor) - she has no other name in Steinbeck's play - is sexy and she's bored, so she plays her own cruel games, strutting across the farm yard in her clingy dress.
Most of the men consider Curly's Wife a tart, and though they hate her behavior, they can't keep their eyes off of her. But Lennie only sees a beautiful woman with soft dresses and softer hair.
Furlong and Lumbrezer give nearly flawless performances as Lennie and George. Of Mice and Men is Furlong's first time on the Players' stage, and it is an introduction that will be hard to top. Lumbrezer, a Players' veteran, plays George as a deeply complex man whose reasons for doing things are never fully explained.
Equally flawless is John Henry as Candy, the aged farm hand who has no future until Lennie and George show him a glimpse of one. In many hands, Candy would be a pitiful character, but Henry plays him with dignity.
Director Larry Farley and the entire cast, including D. Nicholas Hansen, Brian Giles Linthicum, Adam Everett Beck, and Kimm Williams, respect their source material even as they breathe life into even the minor characters.
Of Mice and Men is an American classic, and the Village Players do it justice.
"Of Mice and Men" continues through March 23 in the Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday Tickets are $10 and $12. Information: 419-472-6817.