Of Mice and Men

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I grew up on a small farm. It wasn’t an “up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows” situation, but I’ve loaded my share of hay bales into the barn. I was not a true farmer in any definition of the word, but it was hard work. While I moved away and left farming life behind, I can still look back and remember all the sweaty July evenings where I thought we’d never finish loading all those heavy hay bales.

What’s my point in this bit of nostalgia? Just that I find actors playing farm people incredibly weird.

Now I’m not specifically talking about the REP’s production of Of Mice and Men when I say this. It’s a blanket statement regarding a lot of things: old western movies my dad likes to watch, episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard, or any play that resembles Oklahoma. On stage, farm people are always tired from working, always wiping their faces off with their handkerchiefs. Men always sit with their knees as far apart as possible, in an attempt to look rugged or something. More so than any other period piece, I always have trouble buying into a farm-set show. I don’t mean to sound insulting to the talented cast of Of¬† Mice and Men, because this is more of something I deal with when watching shows.

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Of Mice and Men tells the story of George (Jarrod DiGiorgi) and Lennie (Leandro Cano), two farm workers looking for work. They find jobs on a ranch, and George begins to struggle with the mentally-challenged Lennie, who’s bigger frame and smaller mind get the duo into constant trouble.

Now Of Mice and Men is a classic and popular Depression novella. It is considered an American classic and is one of those books you probably had to read in high school (although I didn’t, but whatever). As a play? It’s a bit flat. Author John Steinbeck wrote the play version of his book the same year it was published. Perhaps that was a bit overconfident on his part. Hey Steinbeck, did anyone read the book before you just assumed they’d want a play version of it?

The scenes are very straightforward, and the plot predictable (speaking as someone who hadn’t read the book). Which is fine, lots of classics get predictable after 50 years or so, but that runs the danger of making it uninteresting. And unfortunately, I think the REP’s production didn’t do much to combat that. Many actors I’m familiar with and am fans of (Weston Blakesley, David Whalen, Justin Fortunato) are playing the other farmhands with their own personalities but don’t get much time to shine. Jarrod DiGiorgi is a bit stiff for my liking as George, who I would think would be a more stressed out character considering his circumstances.

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The fault lies in script too (bring it on, English teachers everywhere). So much is said again and again, every plot detail spelled out for the audience. George mentions a girl in their old town that caused him and Lennie to leave, George warns Lennie to stay away from the only woman on the ranch, and then (finally) Lennie accidentally kills her. We know it’s going to happen, we know how foreshadowing works. It’s a long walk building to a moment we know is coming that ends up being rather anticlimactic. The two scenes of onstage physical violence aren’t accompanied by any sound effects, which give a flat resolution to the tension building onstage (I mean, come on, if you can’t hear someone punching a guy it doesn’t have the same effect).

Leandro Cano is really great as Lennie, the sympathetic gentle giant. His opening Act 2 scene with the only black farmhand (Tommy LaFitte) is particularly well done, as well as the moments he shares with Candy (John McManus), the ranch’s oldest and crippled worker. Lennie is the center of this story, with the tragic mind of a child combined with the dangerous strength of an elephant. It’s a challenging role that Cano hits on the head.

There were moments, both funny and sad, to be seen in Of Mice and Men. However overall the show struggled with a general static feeling and a plot that took too long being explained to us. I can appreciate this story as a piece, showcasing the desperate times of the Depression and the theme that some people just aren’t made for this world. It’s a good story, but it’s a bit of a boring play (the recent Broadway revival starred James Franco. Need I say more?)

Of Mice and Men

Presented by The REP @ Point Park University

Directed by Robert A. Miller

Written by John steinbeck

Designed by Britton Mauk (scenery), Michael Montgomery (costumes), Lloyd Sobel (lighting), Steve Shapiro (sound)

Starring Weston Blakesley (Carlson), Leandro Cano (Lennie), Jarrod DiGiorgi (George), Justin Fortunato (Whit), Luke Halferty (Curley), Erin Lindsey Krom (Curly’s Wife), Tommy Lafitte (Crooks), John McManus (Candy), David Whalen (Slim), and Philip Winters (The Boss). Also Copper, a bloodhound.

The show runs Thursdays-Sundays until September 21st. Tickets can be purchased here. Thanks to the REP and Pittsburgh Playhouse for press tickets, and to Jeff Swenson for production photos.

Performance Date:  September 5, 2014