WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 28, Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $27-$50; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
The feel-good aspect in attending “Of Mice and Men” is helping support free live theater for thousands of Long Island students as part of Bay Street’s Literature Live! initiative. Paying customers defray the cost of free admission for students from Wantagh to Montauk.
But forget altruism. Just because a play is for a good cause doesn’t disqualify it artistically.
John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella was adapted almost immediately for Broadway and revived as recently as last year with James Franco and Chris O’Dowd. It’s long been an American literature staple with themes so universal as to cross species, straddling distinctions between human and beast. Is a dog’s unqualified love less deserving of respect than a human’s?
George is a smart guy who thinks he might’ve gotten ahead except for his friend, Lennie, an oaf with the mind of a semi-verbal child. They’re itinerant ranch hands who stumble into a deadly scenario in which the boss’ son has married a flirt. We see from the start that this won’t end happily. Director Joe Minutillo’s superb cast on Bay Street’s stage dedicated to Steinbeck’s late widow, Elaine, makes it seem as if we’ve never seen it before, played out on Gary Hygom’s embracingly minimalist set.
Bunkhouse mates include Terry Brockbank as the one-handed hanger-on who gloms onto George and Lennie’s ambition for a place to “live off the fat of the land,” and Curley (Jon Kovach), the boss’ son, obsessed with his bride’s restless behavior. Josh Gladstone as Boss, J. Stephen Brantley as the mule skinner, Sawyer Spielberg (yes, son of Steven) and William Sturek as fellow ranch hands, and Chauncy Thomas as the segregated-in-a-barn Negro (impolitely designated in this uncensored-for-students script) contribute to the Great Depression circumstance of this — spoiler alert — tragedy involving Curley’s wife, an appropriately oblivious Georgia Warner.
But without Joe Pallister as George, selflessly shielding his friend from a world he cannot navigate, and Preston Truman Boyd as disarmingly guileless Lennie, “Of Mice and Men” would founder on the shoals of our not caring. There’s no epiphany in seeing “Of Mice and Men” for the dozenth time. Yet this one made me cry like the first time. My sole complaint is toothless: The dog who’s shot out of mercy isn’t mangy enough. Roscoe, age 9, is a rescue dog Bay Street hopes to find a home. “Mangy” would hurt Roscoe’s prospects.