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Acting Shines in Interplayers' OF MICE AND MEN

"Of Mice and Men"
Spokane Interplayers, Saturday night

Don't get John Steinbeck started on the perils of small government.

He'll tell you stories to break your heart.

On Saturday night, Interplayers gave a fine performance of one of Steinbeck's best, his 1937 play "Of Mice and Men," directed by Wes Deitrick.

The play begins with Troy Nickerson, as Lennie, barreling face-down into a wild stream and pulling the audience into a character we can't help but love. He's a little boy grown into the body of a powerful man, and Nickerson uses his entire length and breadth to wonderfully express them both.

Nickerson gives us a memorable, heart-rending Lennie, his sweetness and charm alternating with petulance, fretfulness and tears. Although we easily can grasp Lennie's physical size and strength, it's the little boy within we see most vividly as Nickerson tugs his overalls pockets and dances on kinder- gartners' toes.

The very first scene between two Depression-era itinerant farmworkers sets us up for all that follows. We quickly discover Lennie's compulsion for overpowering soft, sensuous creatures, George's fury and fondness with his companion, and the dream that binds them together.

George Green, playing George, alternates between bullying and warmth, deftly conveying his hostility and frustration with the burdens of his large, mentally disabled friend and yet making us understand how bereft he'd be without him.

We meet Gary Pierce's Candy, an old man missing a hand but possessing the sweetest golden retriever ever to set paw on stage. Lennie falls for the dog in an instant, splaying full length on the floor to pet and nuzzle the animal, their massive profiles mirroring each other in pure physical affection.

In a taut scene later in the bunkhouse, we discover the harshness and casual violence of these characters' world. Their circumstances threaten any aspect of life that might offer sweetness or solace. Pierce expresses his utter desolation physically. When he curls into a fetal ball, we know exactly how he feels. We feel it, too.

Patrick McHenry-Kroetch's Slim takes charge with a Western elegance and heart, and Clarence Forech brings poignance and humor to the character of Crooks.

Chasity Kohlman plays Curly's wife with enough loneliness and nave ruthlessness to allow us to grasp her complexity, too. She is not simply a flirt, but a young woman as driven by isolation and yearning for a better life as any of the wretched men in the bunkhouse.

Steinbeck wrote of a time in America's history when even the elderly and the most disabled were forced to work in brutal conditions to avoid starving to death. Interplayers' powerful production of this classic work helps us feel the horror of that era and understand more deeply why so many older Americans vowed never to return.