Top-notch performers create great ‘Of Mice and Men’ at CRT

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan      

Coming from New York City, home of some of the best theater in the world, makes you sometimes doubt whether you can see great theater anywhere else. This was my notion as I went to see Chenango River Theater’s production of “Of Mice and Men.” However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my notion was false. CRT in Greene offers up a stunning production of this classic play.

Set in an agricultural valley in Northern California, “Of Mice and Men” explores the relationship between two men: Lennie, the developmentallychallented but kind-hearted bull, and George, his caretaker. Throughout the play we learn more intimate details about the special friendship these two men share and their love for each other. The bond they share makes for a heart-wrenching climax at the end of the play.

The cast, directed by Bill Lelbach, portrays this story with honesty and conviction. Lelbach understands the intricate details of this play and conveys them well. There were strong performaces all around, but I must mention a few that stand out. Ted Nappi, as Lennie, is world class. His connection to his character is palpable and profound, making him mesmerizing to watch. He takes you on Lennie’s journey with so much honesty that you fall in love with him, which is what this play requires. He does this with great skill. Jack Harris (George) also deserves praise as, with great heart, he plays the tough country man with a sensitive side. His love for Lennie grows as the play unfolds, thereby making his decision at the end of the play heart-breaking. He takes the audience on an insightful journey of what it must be like to care for a disabled person and the sacrifices one makes in doing so. Superb!

Michael Arcesi (Candy) is flawless. He plays this simple man with simple desires extraordinarily. When his dog gets put to sleep, Arcesi’s distraught reaction is convincing and gut-wrenching. I could not take my eye off him whenever he was on stage! I must also mention Bergin Michaels, who plays Crooks, a worker on the ranch. He provides great comic moments that are much needed in this otherwise heavy play. He brings great life to a smaller role and serves the play greatly.

 I was left pondering whether George was really attracted to Curley’s wife. Curley is the son of the boss, and his wife is all too flirtatious with the ranch hands. There seemed to be some sexual tension between her and George, but I wasn’t sure if it was intended or not. I was a little confused about the nature of their relationship and wish it was more fleshed out and specific.

Otherwise, this production is impressive. I highly recommend going to see this incredible production.

(Editor’s note: “Of Mice and Men” is the final production of CRT’s season. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 24. Details: Visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org.)

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1 Response to "Top-notch performers create great ‘Of Mice and Men’ at CRT"

  1. zaborofsky

    I am tremendously appreciative of Bill Lelbach’s efforts to produce what is perhaps the best theater in our region of New York. But I have to respectfully disagree with Nicholas Linnehan who declared that the Chenango River Theatre’s production of “Of Mice and Men” was “stunning.” I actually found it to be somewhat off the mark, and not as engrossing as I had hoped it would be.
    First, I have to say that the multi-talented Lelbach really knows his theater’s space. He created a versatile stage set that was completely convincing whether it suggested a creek in the California wilderness or a rundown, dusty bunkhouse. I just found his approach to the characters in the story less compelling.
    This play could be re-titled, “Waiting for the Inevitable.” George has to make a decision about his relationship with Lennie, and it’s just a matter of time before that tragic moment will occur. In a sense, the play is like a kettle put on the stove to boil. But that usually takes a while, doesn’t it? So I found it frustrating that Jack Harris, as George, started out at such a high pitch. This left him with nowhere to go. He was so consistently loud and aggravating that he missed those opportunities where an occasional quieter sarcasm or reticence might have been more effective. Think of the scene in which Curly’s lonely and curious wife wandered into the bunkhouse. Harris’s George lit into her immediately. Would a newly hired ranch hand, desperate to keep a job, really risk yelling at and insulting the boss’s daughter-in-law? You could say, “It’s in the text,” but there are different ways to recite the text.
    Likewise, David Melissartos’ portrayal of Curly, who is insecurely possessive of his wife, was so brutish that it was hard to imagine how he attracted someone to marry him in the first place. Again, there are more ways than one to play a hothead.
    I guess that believability is the issue here. Kristen Kittel, as Curly’s wife, was more kittenish than sultry, which might have added more to the building of tension in the story. Michael Arcesi looked the part of the longtime, downtrodden ranch hand but was so gentlemanly that he did not exactly seem like a broken man. (I noticed in the playbill that Mr. Arcesi is in real life an attorney. Perhaps this fact was a distraction for me.)
    I must say that Steven Patterson was very impressive. In the supporting role of Slim, the ranch boss, he showed patience and authority – two qualities that he did not exude when playing the role of Jeeter in this season’s previous “Last of the Boys.” So convincing was he in that play, as an idealistic, impulsive and foolish person, that I wondered how he’d tackle “Of Mice and Men.” Well, he was splendid.
    Finally, I’d like to point out something that I think is indicative of the production: the actors’ shoes. So much detail and thought was applied to their costumes, but apparently, not to their shoes. Think of it: Lennie and George are down-and-out drifters and the rest of the characters traipse around all day on a dusty, dirty ranch, but they all had new and shiny-looking shoes. No worn-out soles, no scuff marks, no caked-on mud. In such an intimate space as the Chenango River Theatre, such details make all the difference.
    Just my two cents.

    Robert Rogers