Of Mice and Men, playing at Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts through November 28, is an intense and poignant stage adaptation of the classic by Sag Harbor’s John Steinbeck. Bay Street Theater has again delivered a top-notch production for their Literature Live series, in which students from schools all over Long Island attend weekday performances of the play for free. But don’t let the educational banner deceive you—this is as worthy an evening of theater as Bay Street’s main stage season offers.
Adult audiences will likely be familiar with the story. Of Mice and Men is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant field workers who have traveled together most of their lives. George looks after Lennie, a huge, physically imposing man who has the mind of a child, and the two dream of owning their own farm and living comfortably and happily. Unfortunately, Lenny can’t control his strength and has a habit of killing small animals, which he likes to touch because they’re soft. After the two take a job at a ranch in California, George and Lennie, along with the older, physically disabled Candy, learn of a small property being sold for an inexpensive price and make plans to purchase it. But temptation sets the plans back, as George wastes money drinking and indulging in town. Lennie, meanwhile, catches the ire of Curley, a newlywed bully with an inferiority complex, leading to a physical assault on Lennie that results in Curley’s hand being broken. Later, Lennie meets Curley’s lonely wife, who allows him to stroke her hair, but when he won’t let go of her she panics, and he accidentally snaps her neck. With no other way out, George is forced to kill him, lest Lenny be arrested, institutionalized, lynched or worse.
Steinbeck’s story is one that’s widely known, but that doesn’t stop the play from being exciting and suspenseful. The excellent cast, from J. Stephen Brantley’s compassionate and perceptive Slim to Chauncy Thomas’ (who audience may recognize as Tom Robinson from last year’s To Kill a Mockingbird) bitter black farmhand Crooks, give the well-known characters humanity and nuance. Joe Pallister is a strong and powerful presence as the conflicted George, while Preston Truman Boyd plays Lennie with an innocence that makes his fate all the more devastating. As Curley’s wife, Georgia Warner lights up the stage with every appearance, displaying the nuance and complexity necessary to make the character more than just the catalyst for the play’s tragic ending. Warner and Boyd play off each other very well in a key scene when Curley’s wife shows the troubled man some kindness right before her sad end.
Director Joe Minutillo, who has directed Literature Live productions including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank, has created a theatrical but realistic world for the characters to populate. A simple and elegant set is complemented by highly effective and moody lighting by lighting designer Jose Santiago. The fight choreography by renowned stage combat director Rick Sordelet is incredibly strong and smooth; an early fight scene involving most of the cast feels completely in the moment, utilizing the entire stage. Adding extra authenticity to the show is the use of a real dog, Roscoe, playing Candy’s elderly dog. Roscoe (who is definitely not as old as his character) lives at the Southampton Animal Shelter and is available for adoption, so be sure to meet him in the lobby after the show.
A tale of friendship, loss and compassion, Of Mice and Men has a lot to teach its audiences, student and adult alike. The idea of the American Dream, constantly changing and shifting over time, is one that is instantly relatable. Anyone looking for a night of thought-provoking and highly entertaining theater should head to Bay Street for this great show.
Of Mice and Men plays at Bay Street Theater through November 28. Bay Street Theater is located at 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 and visit baystreet.org.