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Novelist and playwright John Steinbeck was born in Salinas and worked as a farmhand in that fertile California area. Most of his writing focused on characters in that occupation and in that luscious area—everything from East of Eden to The Grapes of Wrath, his best-known work. His first big success was the novella Of Mice and Men, which he later adapted for the stage. This tale of two co-dependent itinerant ranch hands has been given a lovely revival by the Renaissance Theatre Company in the intimate confines of the 6th @ Penn Theatre.

Director George Flint has skillfully guided his cast through this tale of simple-minded gentle giant Lennie (Darren Scott) and his patient friend and companion, George (Joshua Everett Johnson). Although basically homeless and struggling from meal to meal, George and Lennie have a dream of owning their own farm and "livin' off the fat of the land" that keeps them going. Finding work during the Great Depression was difficult for most men, but it was more difficult for these two as they had to keep moving from town to town because trouble always seemed to find them—mostly because Lennie didn't know the power of his own strength, and his love of touching something soft usually led to tragedy. His over-zealous petting led to death for field mice, puppies, and finally a young wife—trouble the duo, especially George, could no longer run away from. Their tale is told simply and strikes a deep chord of melancholy.

Flint has cast well. Johnson carries the show with his quiet, easygoing, personable George. Scott brings great humanity to Lennie. Jack Banning provides a heartfelt performance as Candy, the old ranch hand who feels he's going to end up toothless and alone like his aged dog. Jennifer Eve Kraus adds just the right touch of tart to her lonely trophy wife. Charlie Riendeau as Slim exudes a strong masculine presence, sort of a John Wayne onstage.

"Of Mice and Men," presented by Renaissance Theatre Company at 6th @ Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., San Diego. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 2 pm. Jan. 14-Feb. 20. $21-26. (619) 688-9210.

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