Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

May 8, 2014

Area theaters take a step back to 1937 with "Of Mice and Men" and "You Can't Take It With You"

Niagara Gazette — It’s 1937 all over again on area stages. “You Can’t Take It with You” and “Of Mice & Men,” Broadway contemporaries 77 years ago, both opened Friday, separated by content and a continent, unified in their depiction of loyalty in desperate times.

“OF MICE & MEN” – Woodbox Theater at the NAAC, Pine & Portage, meets the challenge of John Steinbeck’s grim, enlightening mini-saga. Two drifters, George small and canny, Lenny huge and simple, wander into a California ranch to find the ways and means of independence.

Sami Grawe efficiently directs Chris Best and Tim Kordela, Best playing down his own years to capture George’s conflicted sense of duty in his rolling eyes, Kordela splendid as the helpless man-child, obsessively twisting at his shirt-tail. He makes you laugh, and feel guilty for it.

Support comes from Bob Priest as maimed old Candy and his last-legs dog; Peter-Mark Raphael singularly sinister as Curly (ironic, in view of his hairstyle); Drew Krause as the savvy mule-skinner Slim; Paul Everett as the sullenly segregated Crooks; Savanna Easton as the voluptuous vamp; ex-ump Sam Granieri, with the task of making the final call on the dog and peppy young John Macomber.

The dog, Arrow, Priest’s own, scores a bullseye.

The set is spare and often effective, the cast eager and sincere. Slim says, “You don’t need no smarts to be a nice guy,” and you don’t need an Equity card to bring “Mice & Men” to life.

“YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU” – On a set that redefines “garage-sale chic,” Niagara Regional Guild stages this sprawling comedy as a farce fresh out of finishing school. Few doors slam but the motion is perpetual, even when Alice Sycamore (Sarah Stroka, a dreamboat in blue) intersects the trajectory of dart-throwing Grandpa Vanderhof (Chuck Slisz, faithfully genial).

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