Most of the Keegan cast isn't up to 'Mice and Men's' demands
By Celia Wren
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The Keegan Theatre's "Of Mice and Men" might better be dubbed "Of Danny Gavigan and Danny Gavigan." Now running at the Church Street Theater, the production of John Steinbeck's play features Gavigan in the pivotal role of Lennie, a simple-minded migrant worker. Over the course of the show's two-plus hours, Gavigan manages to be a consistently persuasive, vivid and poignant presence. His mannerisms -- a gaping mouth, an oddly tilted head, hands that splay at awkward angles, a habit of staring away from the person he's talking to -- suggest Lennie's handicap without being ostentatious.
The performance may not smolder with the kind of intensity you'll remember in the long term, but at least Gavigan embodies his character. By contrast, most of his cast mates in this earnest but ho-hum production, directed by Kerry Waters Lucas, seem to be merely toting the facades of theirs. Add in a few other flaws -- fake-looking fight sequences; auditory effects that sound canned -- and this offering seems suited less to theater devotees than to folks needing to brush up on American Literature 101.
To be fair, Mark A. Rhea does sink himself wholeheartedly into the major role of George, Lennie's protector and travel companion. But the actor explores a narrow range of emotions, delivering almost all his lines in tones either of husky resentment or of husky, grudging tolerance. As a result, the performance becomes monotonous, and one misses the hints of tenderness and castle-in-the-air wistfulness (George does, after all, long to buy his own farm) that might make the Lennie-George relationship really affecting.
Kevin Adams is relatively compelling as the Luger-packing field hand Carlson, and Colin Smith, the assistant director, brings an enjoyable air of bullying skepticism to his cameo as a ranch boss. But Matt Boliek's shambling portrait of Candy, a wistful amputee, isn't very persuasive, and Lee Matthews is distressingly stagy as the ranch's flirtatious but unhappy female resident. Director Lucas might have given Matthews some tips on playing off other performers; as it is, the actress often seems to be operating -- and sometimes declaiming -- on her own plane.
Shadia Hafiz designed the costumes (lots of frayed denim), which look right for the context and era. Eric Lucas created the aptly stark set, dominated by movable wooden surfaces that resemble barn partitions. In a nice contrasting touch, a gorgeous pink sunset (and sometimes a pink moon) frequently flushes the backdrop, as if symbolizing George and Lennie's rosy but ill-fated pipe dreams. Would that this production's own ambitions had met with more success.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas, assisted by Colin Smith; lighting design and technical direction, Dan Martin; sound, David Crandall; assistant costume design, Hilary Rednor. With K.J. Thorarinsson, John Keena, Drew Kopas and Paul Andrew Morton. About 2 hours 20 minutes.