Thursday, October 29, 2020

365. OF MICE AND MEN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Pamela Blair, James Earl Jones. (Photos: Martha Swope)

OF MICE AND MEN [Dramatic Revival] A: John Steinbeck; D: Edwin Sherin; DS: William and Jean Eckart; P: Elliot Martin i/a/w Mortimer Levitt; T: Brooks Atkinson Theatre; 12/18/74-2/9/75 (61)

David Gale, Kevin Conway, James Earl Jones, Mark Gordon.

Two of the hottest stage actors of the day, Kevin Conway and James Earl Jones, played the roles of George and Lennie in this revival of John Steinbeck’s 1937 adaptation of his own novel about two migrant farm workers in Southern California during the dreary days of the Depression. The play, despite its obvious flaws, remained a worthwhile and not quite dated exercise. Most critics bestowed on it their appreciation for its subtle melodramaturgy and compassionate view of the symbiosis between the canny, protective George and the powerful but oafish Lennie. Reviews for the production were generally positive, but some felt that directorial inadequacy and a few less-than-sterling performances in supporting roles created a mediocre presentation.

James Earl Jones, Kevin Conway.

The performances of Conway and Jones were considered of major importance. These actors seemed to have established a bond of genuine human cohesion, made even more resonant by the fact of Jones’s blackness in a role originally written for a white actor. John Simon and Walter Kerr, however, were among the few who insisted that Jones’s casting was an egregious error. Simon pointed out that the lack of antagonism to a Black Lennie in a play where Crooks (Joe Seneca), a Black character, is mistreated because of his race, was nonsense. Still, Simon agreed that Jones “gives one of his best performances.” Clive Barnes noted that Jones had “transformed himself into a figure of shambling strength, glimmering intelligence and intense sweetness . . . It is a beautifully complete performance.”

James Earl Jones, Kevin Conway.

Conway also was loudly praised, John Beaufort pointing out that he “touches all the conflicting facets of George’s impatient, harshly protective feeling for the giant child he has undertaken to look after.”

The company included Stefan Gierasch as Candy, Mark Gordon as Curley, Pamela Blair as Curley’s wife, David Gale as Slim, and David Clarke as the Boss.