John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men needs little introduction to many of us. The heartwarming yet emotionally devastating book was required reading at many schools, including my alma mater, Arcadia High School in Phoenix. Arizona Theatre Company brings the story to life through April 17 in a co-production with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The play is aptly directed by Mark Clements.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the compelling tale of friendship and survival follows smart, scrappy George (Jonathan Wainwright) and his kind-hearted, slow-witted friend Lennie (Scott Greer). The two wander the country, drifting from one farm job to another while daring to dream of a better life.
Lennie is a gentle giant with the mind of a child and a desire to touch soft things, like rabbits. With his brute strength, it’s an obsession that’s bound to end in tragedy. Greer has mastered the innocence of the character with convincing facial expressions and speech that is thick and labored. His left hand frequently floats in the air as if trying to explain things his brain cannot. As the quick-witted George, Wainwright gives a performance that is equally impressive. He is believably earnest in his loyalty to Lennie, and he tries to guard him from being abused while protecting others from Lennie’s incredible strength. There is unforced chemistry between the two that is most evident when the pair fantasize about owning a small ranch and “living off the fat of the land.”
The supporting cast deserves praise as well, with James Pickering standing out as Candy, the aging ranch hand who lost his hand in an accident; Bernard Balbot as the petulant son of the boss; and Chike Johnson as Crooks, the crippled black man who is not allowed inside the bunkhouse. The simple yet detail-packed set by Todd Edward Ivins also is impressive, with smooth scene-changing handled beautifully by the cast.
From beginning to end, Lennie and George prove the depth of their friendship. And however doomed their journey, they invite us to share in their fleeting dream of that little ranch on a few acres – with the house, the fat stove, the alfalfa. “And the rabbits,” Lennie reminds, “don’t forget about the rabbits.”
Herberger Theater Center
222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
Through April 17
Get your daily dose of culture with our curated picks of the best events and experiences in the Valley, from art and music to sports and the outdoors. Culture vultures can sign up for our Things to Do and VIP List newsletters for even more hip happenings.