Leighton Meester made her Broadway stage  in an adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel 'Of Mice and Men' opposite James Franco.

Leighton Meester makes her Broadway stage debu in an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ opposite James Franco. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and “Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester all made their Broadway debut last night (Apr. 16) in an adaption of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men and put together a nuanced performance that drew mostly critical raves.

The story has oft been told on stage and the big screen since Steinbeck published the short novel in 1937, providing plenty of material for comparison.

The book tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two itinerant California farm workers, scratching out a living during Great Depression. They dare to dream despite their fairly wretched lives and dire circumstances.

James Franco, Leighton Meester, Chris O’Dowd Debut on Broadway
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George (Franco) is the fast talker; Lennie (O’Dowd) is a hulking, slow-witted, child-like giant. They share a dream of finding a place of their own so they can finally live with dignity. But the times and their own limitations conspire against them.

Meester plays the flirty, sexually depraved wife of Curley, the boss’s son, to whom Steinbeck never gave a name. He wanted her to be seen as more of a symbol than a person and she proves to be Lennie’s and her own undoing.

Like most iconic works of literature, “Of Mice and Men” is open to an infinite number of interpretations. Director Anna D. Shapiro sticks closely to the classic, and is spanked for it by The New York Times’ Ben Brantley.

He damns the play with faint praise, calling it a “respectable, respectful and generally inert revival.”

“Somehow Ms. Shapiro’s handsome, meticulously designed production (featuring impressive Walker Evans-evoking sets by Todd Rosenthal) feels about as fluid as a diorama in a history museum,” he writes.

At the other extreme Richard Ouzounian, theatre critic for The Toronto Star calls the play a “shattering work of art,” with “perfect” casting.

“Every role is cast with the proper grit and texture, with all the ranch hands seeming like the rough, broken men they are and Leighton Meester playing Curley’s Wife as the tawdry rag doll with her eye on a non-existent prize that she has to be,” he writes.

The play is being staged at the Longacre Theater, 220 W. 48th St., in Manhattan through July 27. Check out more on the Of Mice and Men Web site and be sure to follow TheImproper on Twitter for the latest theater news.