Friday, February 08, 2013

See M&D's remarkable 'men'

CONWAY — Even if you've read "Of Mice and Men," you still won't be prepared for the potency of M&D Productions' production of John Steinbeck's iconic novella.

Directed by Dennis O'Neil, "Of Mice and Men," which opened Thursday, Feb. 7, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is playing Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, is marked by rich and fully developed performances across the board from the large ensemble cast.

Set in California during the Great Depression, "Of Mice and Men" centers on George (Scott Katrycz) and Lennie (Dan Tetreault), a pair of migrant workers who bounce from plantation to plantation taking any work they can get. They are never able to stay in one place for too long as the mentally-challenged Lennie has a way of getting in trouble in ways he doesn't intend or understand. George feels protective of Lennie and loyally looks after him.

At their newest job they meet an assortment of characters including the boss (Joe LaFrance); Candy (Kevin O'Neil), a crippled handyman; Curley (Daniel Otero), the hot-headed son of the boss; Curley's new wife (Janette Kondrat), who seems to be a "tart" but claims she simply wants someone to talk to; Slim (Rob Clark), the respected, understanding mule driver; Crooks (Corey St. Jernquist), the black stable hand; and Whit (Eric Jordan) and Carlson (Andrew Brosnan), other workers on the farm.

George and Lennie are sustained through all their trials and tribulations by the dream of owning their own place. They are often told that hundreds of men have chased that fantasy only to fail and yet their dream is catching because they talk about it with such passion. Soon Candy and Crooks are believing in it, too.

Having something to hope and strive for is one of Steinbeck's essential themes. It is this dream that gives George and Lennie's life purpose and meaning. As Dennis O'Neil explains in his director's notes, "Of Mice and Men" is a richly layered story with new themes to be discovered.

"Whether one chooses to see 'Of Mice and Men' as an indictment of the American Dream against the backdrop of the Great Depression, a 'slice of life' look at the plight of the migrant worker, or, as I have come to see this piece, as a simple love story, it continues to strike personal chords in each of us," wrote Dennis O'Neil.

The key aspect of Dennis O'Neil's production is the love that George and Lennie feel for each other. This isn't a traditional love story, but the loyalty and compassion that these two men feel for each other is pure and simple. George and Lennie's relationship is beautifully portrayed by Katrycz and Tetreault.

Tetreault is nothing short of amazing as Lennie. Everything from his speech patterns to the way he walks feels accurate. He captures the childlike innocence of Lennie, but never overplays the character to the point of becoming mawkish or cartoonish. There are no cheap laughs or tears here.

He completely disappears into the character, so much so that even when he's not the focal point of the scene his actions and facial expressions are 100 percent in character. There is a moment when other characters are talking and you can watch Tetrault's face light up when they mention a keyword that means something to him.

Katrycz is an ideal match to Tetrault. He captures George's conflicted relationship with Lennie. George is often frustrated with Lennie, but can never leave him because, as he notes, once you get "used to a guy" it is hard to stop.
The way in which Katrycz patiently, even sweetly tells Lennie about the farm they will own one day is equal parts heart warming and breaking. Katrycz and Tetrault establish a connection that feels real. You sense how much George cares for Lennie.

The rest of the cast is equally strong with Kevin O'Neil as a stand out. He makes Candy upbeat and easy going at first, but also reveals a quiet sadness. When he sees a chance for a better life, hope fills him with new found zeal.

Steinbeck has said that Curley's wife wasn't given a name because "she's not a person, she's a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil — and a danger to Lennie." Even so, Kondrat manages to infuse her performance with a melancholy that helps make the character feel more substantial. Kondrat and Tetreault share a scene in which they discuss their dreams (although not necessarily with each other). It is a nice, well acted moment that makes the final turn of the scene all the more tragic.

Many in the audience will be familiar with this story, so it is a credit to the caliber of this production that the end still has the power to deeply move. This is show that will stick with you long after the final curtain falls.

For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

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