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Sep 20, 2011 8:41 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

'Of Mice And Men' Review

Sep 20, 2011 9:39 AM

Michael Disher’s production of “Of Mice and Men,” now staging at the Southampton Cultural Center, isn’t perfect but it is compelling drama, well told and true to the original masterpiece written by John Steinbeck.

The play is a tough one—dark subject matter, button-pushing themes of alienation and loneliness, death (both the physical and emotional kinds) and a lead character who is mentally challenged. In the wrong hands, the portrayal of the character of Lennie Small could easily sink this production, though thankfully Seth Hendricks does the feeble giant justice. He plays Lennie exactly as this character should be played—with a childlike innocence that is not only believable but also heartbreakingly moving. There were tears in this reviewer’s eyes when George (Brava to Joe Pallister who convincingly plays the tough guy with a heart of gold. More on him in just a bit.) takes away Lennie’s mouse.

Not to spoil the surprises for anyone who isn’t familiar with this great American tragedy but the mouse scene is just one of the many instances of some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing in this play. Of Mice and Men, which Mr. Steinbeck based on his real experiences working as a bindlestiff, or migrant worker, is the Nobel Prize-winning author’s first attempt at the novel-form play, and it shows. Though fascinating, and quite moving, it’s as if he wrote each scene after taking an intensive screenwriting class, though not necessarily in a good way.

Under Mr. Disher’s direction, the play moves along at a nice clip but in this play novelette, practically every scene foreshadows what’s to come in the end—to the extent that smart audience members might feel as if they are being spoon-fed pablum. First it’s the mouse, then it’s Candy’s dog, the telling of what happened in Weed, California (the last place George and Lennie worked and from which they had to make a quick exit), the ignoble Curley’s Vaseline-filled glove, the talk about the feel of velvet, etc. But don’t discount the work of the players of the Cultural Center for this reviewer’s annoyance with Mr. Steinbeck’s hit-you-over-the-head plot contrivances.

Back to Mr. Pallister, who plays George with a smoldering, yet sensitive machismo that stirs remembrances of Josh Holloway as James “Sawyer” Ford on “Lost.” Yum. But Mr. Pallister is more than just noble eye-candy, he’s a gifted actor and his commitment to the part shines through. Well done.

As for the rest of the cast, they also did a great job with their parts.

Billy Paterson plays Candy with sensitivity and honesty (I cried real tears for him when Carlson killed his old dog); Charles Parshley is perfectly suited to the role of The Boss, though it would’ve been great to see more of him; and Vincent Carbone was so good at his portrayal of that jerk Curley that he might just get a few stink eyes in the next few weeks by people who encounter him while he’s out and about living his real life.

Famous local radio personality Bonnie Grice puts her heart and soul into playing the part of the doomed Curley’s Wife (Oh, and nice ringlets Bonnie!); Chris Tyrkko finds great balance between educated man and ranch hand as the voice of reason, Slim; Richard Gardini and Robert Florio, as Carlson and Whit, were both quite convincing as Depression-era roustabouts (who knew?); and Eugene Hamilton was so good as the physically deformed Crooks that this reviewer wasn’t sure if he had a real ailment until he finally stood up to take his bows at the end of the play.

Bottom line: Job well done.

“Of Mice and Men” stages Thursday through Saturday, September 22 through 24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, September 25, at 2:30 p.m. at the Levitas Center for the Arts at the Southampton Cultural Center. Tickets are $22 and discounts are available for seniors and students. For reservations, visit southamptonculturalcenter.org or call 287-4377.

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