Of Mice and Men, Bog Theatre. Hard times seem to renew John Steinbeck's Depression-era blue-collar tragedy celebrating the solidarity of supposedly useless people. More than a chronicle of male bonding, Of Mice and Men compassionately charts the friendship between George, a loyal dreamer, and his hulking pal Lennie, a childlike giant with a dangerous penchant for breaking bones. Sheldon Patinkin's authentic staging for the new Bog Theatre in Des Plaines is equally rooted in the story, the setting, and the situation. His casting is half the battle: David Bryson gives George the real-life reluctance of the genuinely good; you feel how difficult it's been for him to both keep Lennie out of trouble and cope with his own hard luck. Dan Tomko magnifies Lennie's simplicity till it blossoms into innocence. Scenes in which they share the rituallike fantasy of retiring to a rabbit farm seem more overheard than rehearsed.
Craftsmanship ennobles all the parts: David Cromer as Candy, a misfit who falls hard for their dream; Daniel Patrick Sullivan as a cowboy of ramrod rectitude; and Jerry Hlava as the boss's handsome ne'er-do-well son, who never had to struggle for success. In the potentially misogynistic role of Curley's Wife, who seems a serpent in this male enclave, Laura Wade underplays the character's Whore of Babylon side and underlines her desperate loneliness. Completing the grand illusions are Joseph Wade's set, a dynamically skewed bunkhouse beautifully lit by Drew Kimball, and Adam Meltzer's evocative but too-brief score.