The American Keegan Theatre returned to the Watergate, Kilkenny, with an impressive classic, Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck. Adapted from a 1937 novella, written about migrant dispossessed workers, called bindlestiffs. Steinbeck had experience of this type of life and in a post-Depression America, he caught the mood of a generation and he also wrote it in a very immediate style, called a play novel, in dramatic scenes.

Eric Lucas designed a minimalist but effective set of used timber pallets as the tragic story of Lennie, a disabled giant of a man, who could work like a horse but lacked cognitive or social skills, moved towards inevitable tragedy. Lennie was kept out of trouble by another migrant worker who had hopes of better times and this Heorge was a brother or father figure, who was frustrated by Lennie’s inappropriate actions. Lennie, a gentle giant, could kill a pup through excessive kindness and would touch a woman’s dress because he liked the colour.

They came to a Californian farm, peopled by characters who mostly have flaws of some sort or other. The dominant Boss, has a weak son who was a boxer but is more a bully who married a good-looking dreamer of a woman who thinks she has a future in Hollywood. Most of the characters are lost or hope for a better day a-coming.

Kerry Waters Lucas directs with a sharp focus on the inherent tragedy of the work and moves the work along with pace and control. Loneliness and despair are never far away as Lennie tries to stroke the wife’s hair and kills her to stop her struggling and screaming.

Danny Gavigan towers over this play, not just physically, but in the horrifying reality of his portrayal as Lennie. This was an impressive interpretation that rang much truer for me than the John Malkovich role in the movie. Paul Andrew Morton was excellent as the negro worker Crooks, exiled from the company of white folk to a corner of a barn.

Mark A. Thea was a solid, caring, George, with Lee Matthews as the flighty wife. John Keena, Dn Martin, K. J. Thorarinsson, Kevin Adams, Matt Boliek and Drew Kopas played the other characters with clarity and conviction.

Only criticism I had was the opening use of a guitar playing, singing ranch-hand, that is not in the novel and was introduced as a Balladeer in the operatic version.

Kilkenny’s Watergate has a fine winter programme with the amazing Playing Burton on 6th October and the powerful and painful Days Of Wine And Roses, 13th and 14th November. Simon Delaney also stars in Stone In His Pockets from 15 to 17 October. I saw the original production of this from Dubblejoint in Kilkenny back in the nineties.