OF MICE AND MEN
SHAKESPEARE THEATRE OF NEW JERSEY
The New York Times
If there were any dry eyes opening night at the conclusion of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's gut-wrenching production of Of Mice and Men, they were the exception. The deafening silence that greeted the final blackout and the cheers that followed gave witness to the enduring power of John Steinbeck's dramatization of his 1937 novel to grab its audience by the heart and never let go. Lennie is a time bomb waiting to detonate, and Mark Mineart gives a profoundly moving performance as the childlike yet physically powerful outcast.
Mineart captures Lennie's innocence, humor, and blundering anger with a clear, keen balance of emotional truth. Steinbeck's yarn is a compelling human drama and this hard- hitting production has tapped its full eloquence and poetic grandeur.
A sensitive cast takes its time exploring Steinbeck's Depression-tinged characters. Graham Winton is a superb George, balancing macho and empathy with breathtaking ease. Mark Mineart gives a haunting performance as Lennie — most remarkable in that until he opens his mouth, one would never know the childlike personality beneath. The Shakespeare Theatre continues to stage knockout productions, one after the other. This is one of the very best.
The Daily Record
There are so many reasons to see the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production of Of Mice and Men that it might be hard to fit them all on one page. Broderick Crawford, James Earl Jones, Randy Quaid and John Malkovich have all done Lennie proud, while Robert Blake and Gary Sinise can be counted among the greater Georges.
The trick is to find actors who aren't afraid of the ghosts, and with Mark Mineart and Graham Winton, the theatre has two fearless forces at the top of a playoff-worthy lineup. As Lennie, of course, Mineart has the tougher job. He runs the full range of emotions sitting on a tiny nail barrel as he tells Crooks, the crippled black muleskinner, about how he and George are this close to their dream of owning a farm and "living off the fat of the land." And when he's forced to defend himself against Curly, the hot-tempered son of the ranch boss, rather than his eyes lighting up as though a switch was turned on, Mineart's eyes instead go blank, as if something was turned off. It's an important distinction, one that helps reinforce that Lennie's actions are not only beyond his control, but are completely passive as well. This is why we can continue to hope, when he accidentally snaps the neck of Curly's flirtatious wife, that he might find a way to avoid the lynch mob. We continue to hope, even when we know how the story ends. And gasps and gulps can be heard from the audience when George fires the bullet, as though they still can't accept the inevitable.
CLOSE TO PERFECTION - A MASTERFUL REVIVAL OF STEINBECK'S OF MICE AND MEN
Director Joe Discher certainly formulated some best-laid plans for Of Mice and Men when he cast Graham Winton as George and Mark Mineart as his behemoth friend Lennie. They're superb as the two migrant workers who wonder where they'll find their next meal, let alone job. Lennie is a role that can be too easily caricatured if an actor isn't careful, but Mineart is magnificent as the eager-to-please, simple man. What is more, he captures the dignity of a person who's trying his best. There's a scene where Lennie and George are sitting by a campfire. Lighting designer Matthew E. Adelson has George's face illuminated by the coals, but not Lennie's, for he's sitting too far away. No matter; the enthusiasm that Mineart gives lights up his face anyway.
While the final scenes were played at Saturday's opening, the audience's rapt silence was interrupted by the sound of purses being zipped open and unclasped. After women wiped their eyes with their hankies, men next to them motioned that they should hand them over. Of Mice and Men centers on people's need to talk, but it left this audience speechless.
Madison – It's nighttime and George and Lennie have stopped to rest on a sandy bank of the Salina River. The stage, however, is soon transfigured into designer Marion Williams' awesome evocation of a crudely constructed bunkhouse and barn where the migrants mingle and sleep. It is here that George hopes to earn enough money to secure his dream of buying his own farm and where Lennie's dream can be summed up with the immortal line, "We'll live off the fat of the land."
Joe Discher has staged a sturdily humanized production for the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey. It works mainly because it fully embraces the central meaningful relationship within the play. Certainly the fraternal love between George and Lennie is even more to the point in 2004. This is the dimension of the plot that remains universal rather than the predictably tragic plot or the one dimensional supporting characters.
It is also fortunate that Graham Winton, as George, and Mark Mineart, as Lennie, two migrant agricultural workers, have sought to go one step beyond the more obvious and stereotypical models for their characters. Because of this, the core of the play – the strange but symbiotic relationship of two unwitting victims of the times – is able to support the weaker circumference, the vision of a social system empowered by greed and materialism.
Mineart's depiction of an overgrown child with an obsession for petting small furry animals and soft sensual fabrics, is deeply moving. Being tall, large–framed and virtually bald Mineart, who is making his Shakespeare Theater debut, holds our attention by the sheer substance of his portrayal. The scenes, in which Lennie and George talk and dream of owning a farm together, are touching indeed and easily validate their friendship and the support they bring to each other.
Written one year before his masterpiece "The Grapes of Wrath," but acknowledged as a stunning testament to the migrant workers who work with the dream of a better life "Of Mice and Men" is all about what Steinbeck saw first hand as a young man. What he brought to light remains true to this day only more global in its reach in light of the rampant and greedy exploitation by US companies of native workers in foreign countries.
In addition to these reviews you may also read interviews and articles about this production.