PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 12-18: Three New Broadway Openings and The Flick Takes the Pulitzer

By Robert Simonson
18 Apr 2014

James Franco
Photo by Richard Phibbs
There was a lot of critical argument as to who or what was the real star of the show. Hollywood Reporter argued it was Steinbeck: "The headline news in this stirring Broadway remount is the stage debut of peripatetic artistic adventurer James Franco, starring opposite the wonderful Chris O'Dowd as itinerant ranch workers George and Lennie. But the real satisfaction comes from those unforgettable characters, their joy and wrenching sorrow, and the enduring power of their story of friendship sustained by illusory dreams in a world of solitude."

Variety disagreed, saying, "But the other star of the show is helmer Anna D. Shapiro, who turns in an impeccably mounted production without a single blemish. The ensemble acting is flawless. The design work is breathtaking. And Steinbeck's Depression-based views on the human connections that are our only hope of survival in desperate times are just as relevant — even imperative — for living through our own cruel times."

Most others, however, gave the prize to O'Dowd. "Chris O'Dowd... turns in a very impressive performance as the mentally challenged Lennie in a fine revival," opined AP. "Franco? He's pretty good in his Broadway debut as George, but O'Dowd, in a tricky role, steals the show." Time Out NY concurred: "Franco gives an easy, well-shaded performance, but it's O'Dowd who stuns with a harrowingly real Lennie. The role of a mentally disabled character can be either technically overdone or a wallow in bathos, but O'Dowd is superb."

The Times, meanwhile, didn't find much to like besides O'Dowd, writing, "somehow Ms. Shapiro's handsome, meticulously designed production feels about as fluid as a diorama in a history museum. And its two undeniably talented leading men, though known as quirky and adventurous screen stars, here wear their archetypes like armor... Lennie is a role that is pretty hard to get wrong, if the performer has the right physical dimensions. Mr. O'Dowd gives the expected gentle-giant performance, though he uses his left hand in surprisingly delicate gestures that bring affecting grace notes to Lennie's lumbering presence. Though he sports a Yosemite Sam accent, Mr. Franco is often understated to the point of near invisibility. It's a tight, internal performance begging for a camera's close-up."

All in all, not a bad showing for Franco & Co.