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Review Roundup: ‘Of Mice and Men’

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck’s 1937 play based on his novella, opened April 16 at the Longacre Theatre. James Franco (127 Hours), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), and Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) headline, all making their Broadway debuts. Tony and Olivier winner Jim Norton (The Seafarer) and Obie winner Ron Cephus Jones (Our Lady of 121st Street) also star. Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County) directs.

Franco and O’Dowd play George and Lennie, two drifters struggling to survive in the farmlands of Depression-era California. They appear to be settled in their latest position, but when the simple-minded, but incredibly strong Lennie encounters the foreman’s flirtatious wife (Meester), the pair’s dreams of finding a place of their own are dashed.

The critics were almost unanimous in their praise of every aspect of the production, including Shapiro’s direction and Todd Rosenthal’s set design. “The ensemble acting is flawless. The design work is breathtaking,” raved Marilyn Stasio in Variety. Most pointed out that the headline grabber of the show was Franco, but that O’Dowd turns in a more impressive performance as the mentally challenged Lennie. Ben Brantley of the New York Times and Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post were the only reviewers to sound negative notes among the bravos. Brantley judged the staging and acting stiff and inauthentic, while Vincentelli found Franco’s performance bland, throwing off the balance of the show. But she was more enthusiastic about the overall production and joined in the praise of O’Dowd. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

Jim Parrack, Leighton Meester, Chris O'Dowd, James Franco, Jim Norton, and Ron Cephas Jones during the opening night curtain call for 'Of Mice and Men'  (Photo: Walter McBride/WireImage)

Jim Parrack, Leighton Meester, Chris O’Dowd, James Franco, Jim Norton, and Ron Cephas Jones during the opening night curtain call for ‘Of Mice and Men’ (Photo: Walter McBride/WireImage)


Ben Brantley, New York Times
“The presentation is lucid, stately and neutral. Such traits might make this revival an excellent audiovisual aid for middle-school instructors who are teaching Steinbeck’s novella. Habitual theatergoers, though, shouldn’t expect the kind of revivifying interpretation that makes revisiting a classic feel essential.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) is such a likable and endearing actor that he automatically brings goodwill to a role. The Broadway rookie’s thoughtful performance as the loud, clumsy and sweet overgrown child creates a sense of imminent catastrophe. As George, who’s torn between protectiveness and outrage, Franco’s confident, straightforward, no-frills performance works just right.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“As George, the wandering ranch hand in John Steinbeck’s hard-luck 1930s California, Franco is all surface, never giving us any insight into what drives him—he’s a very handsome blank. O’Dowd, on the other hand, disappears into Lennie, George’s simple-minded friend. His newly shaved head and bushy beard help distance him from the amiable, goofy figure we knew from Bridesmaids.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Chris O’Dowd, known more for films like Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids, turns in a very impressive performance as the mentally challenged Lennie in a fine revival of Of Mice and Men. Franco? He’s pretty good in his Broadway debut as George, but O’Dowd, in a tricky role, steals the show.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“The inevitable headline is that James Franco—who seems determined to do everything and be everywhere without breaking a sweat—is making his Broadway debut in John Steinbeck’s 1937 Of Mice and Men. But the real news is that Franco is just one fine element in this straightforward powerhouse of a revival, directed by Anna D. Shapiro with inspiring trust in the impact of classic storytelling.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“It’s a vivid, sensitive performance of the piece with director Anna D. Shapiro’s staging. Having deftly served the rapid-fire, often caustic wit in August: Osage County and The Motherf—– with the Hat, Shapiro approaches the very different milieu here determined to articulate the more simply expressed but still piercing longings and regrets of Steinbeck’s men (and one woman).”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“The film actors are buoyed by a sterling supporting cast—including Jim Parrack as good-hearted cowboy Slim, Jim Norton as old-timer Candy and the incomparable Ron Cephas Jones as lonely Crooks—all corralled by gimlet-eyed director Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County). They work hard, and they pull together.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“James Franco and Chris O’Dowd may be the big draws (and well deserving of all their kudos) in this emotionally devastating revival of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. But the other star of the show is helmer Anna D. Shapiro, who turns in an impeccably mounted production without a single blemish.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Irish actor O’Dowd is tremendous in a part that could easily stray into mawkish territory. His Lennie is a trusting innocent, clinging to the rituals of his life with George.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“O’Dowd’s riveting performance is a study in underdeveloped impulse control: He frequently reaches out his hand with crooked fingers, then just as quickly withdraws. Though his native Irish accent occasional pokes through, O’Dowd makes Lenny sympathetic without ever stooping to caricature.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“O’Dowd brings all manner of subtlety to Lennie. What he does with his fluttery hands alone is acting inspiration. He sees that Lennie’s feelings are all unguardedly on the surface and expresses that through mood changes often simultaneously funny and sorrowful.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“The new Broadway production, directed by Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County) with a cast ofHollywood names (James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester, all making their Broadway debuts) alongside stage regulars (Jim Norton and Ron Cephas Jones), is genuinely gripping, gritty and emotionally shattering.”


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