It seems that we're all just one dream away from a happy life: one job, one relationship, one Super Lotto ticket. Alone among the species, a human being is able to foresee her own demise, as well as to conjure the possibility of positive outcomes. John Steinbeck had this in mind when he wrote his classic novel Of Mice and Men, set in Depression-era California and featuring the poignant aspirations of George and Lennie -- itinerant farmhands who continually convince themselves they're just one meager payday away from salvation.
Now in theatrical form at Beck Center, this required-reading tragedy is widely familiar. So the task at hand is to bring a fresh perspective to small, sharp-witted George; the sweet, lumbering simpleton, Lennie; and their story of shattered dreams. The Beck production, while faithful to the work and entirely capable in execution, is ultimately an uninspired interpretation of this iconic American tale. And it's a shame, since several individual elements are superior.
George and Lennie show up at a farm and start slinging bags of barley, eager to make enough money to buy their own tract and start "living off the fat of the land." But the path to that golden life is full of obstacles, including Curley, the hot-tempered farm-owner's son (cartoonishly overplayed by Brian Honohan), and Curley's wife, a tart who enjoys parading her goodies in front of the crew in their bunkhouse. In addition, Lennie has a child's attraction to soft things, but has no control over his enormous physical power, so his pet mice end up with snapped necks. Knowing this, George tries to keep Lennie far away from the soft tresses of Curley's wife, but, well, you read the book.
The key to this play is capturing the complex bond between George and Lennie, two misfits whose fates seem entwined until events spin out of control. Greg Del Torto is exceptional as George, playing him as a wiry and savvy man who realizes all too well the potential peril in his journey with his profoundly flawed friend. As Lennie, Robert McCoy is perfect physically, and he accurately depicts all the surface characteristics -- the drawl, the blank stare -- of this mentally challenged man-boy. But there must be more dimension to Lennie for this play to soar, and McCoy's interpretation is too much on one note. This pair is ably supported by Glenn Colerider as the affable elderly farmhand, Candy; Marvin L. Mallory, who gives dignity to the black laborer, Crooks; and Betsy Kahl as Curley's wife.
Unfortunately, the critical wilderness scenes at beginning and end are played before an earth-tone curtain -- an unappealing choice by scenic designer Richard Gould, since that natural setting is where George and Lennie's dreams are born and where they eventually die. All in all, director Fred Sternfeld has crafted a respectful rendition here, ideal for those being exposed to Steinbeck's tragic vision for the first time. But for others, it may seem a bit too basic.