John Steinbeck's script, adapted from his novel, captures the specific world of the migrant farm worker in California circa 1937. What dogs this staging by Michael Ross is a combination of direction, interpretation, pacing, and nasty misfortune. The latter is a serious foot injury to Ed McBride, the actor portraying Lennie. While he manages remarkably well while hobbling about on crutches, his injury is a distraction, and it must certainly hamper his ability to bring the character to life.
Although McBride brings the requisite qualities of dumb simple-mindedness to the role, his Lennie, ever the goofy simpleton, still seems too hip to what's going on around him. When nasty Curley (Dylan Bailey) and his tart wife (Christina Nigra) threaten George and Lennie's dream of owning their own spread, we need to see terror dawn on Lennie's face. Two violent climaxes — Lennie crushing Curley's hand and breaking the neck of Curley's wife — should be prolonged to maximize their impact. Nigra's sense of self-determination doesn't jibe with how the other characters describe her. Likewise, farmhand Candy is ancient, toothless, and nearly senile, which makes the much younger, more fastidious Nick Cook sorely miscast.
On the plus side are the men — Lawrence Briskey, Todd Rew, Eddie Teran, Roger K. Weiss — who portray the farmhands. Briskey's Slim carries himself with the kind of integrity that inspires confidence, and all four capture the sense of lives spent in easygoing futility. Bailey's Curley is a first-class jerk. A. Lee Wilson Jr. is a standout as the bitter, resentful black stable buck Crooks. This staging's focal performance, though, is Michael Durack's, whose George is a mixture of guardedness, caution, guilt, frustration, tension, and, in glimmers, hope for a brighter future that, in the real world described by Crooks, will never arrive.
Presented by and at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Jun. 28-Aug. 2. (562) 494-1014. www.lbph.com.