Stage review: Nuanced performances bring out horror and humor in 'Of Mice and Men'
September 10, 2014 12:00 AM
Jeff Swensen for Point Park Univ
Leandro Cano and Jarrod DiGiorgi star in The REP’s production, “Of Mice and Men,” which runs Sept. 5-21 at Pittsburgh Playhouse.
By Adrian McCoy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Of Mice and Men" has been required reading for generations of high school students who sometimes dodge or dread it, but John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic still speaks to audiences today. The stage adaptation opens The REP’s 2014 season at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
“Of Mice and Men” is the tale of two migrant workers — the physically strong but mentally challenged Lennie Small, and George Milton, who watches out for Lennie and tries — often unsuccessfully — to keep him out of trouble. The pair are hired on at a California ranch, where their encounters with the other workers lead to disaster. The boss’s son Curley’s new wife creates tension among the men, ultimately leading to Lennie’s downfall.
‘Of Mice and Men’
Where: The REP at Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Rauh Theatre, Oakland.
When: Through Sept. 21. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $24-$27; pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.
It’s a harsh place where the workers live in close quarters yet are isolated and lonely, and where the treatment of women and black people is unthinkable by today’s standards. It’s Lennie who succinctly sums up the place: “It’s mean here,” he says.
George and Lennie dream of buying some land and growing their own crops instead of working to harvest other people’s, and Lennie envisions a place where he can raise rabbits. That dream dies along with the newborn puppy he adopts, and Curley’s wife, who he accidentally kills by breaking her neck. George ultimately takes his role of friend and protector to the limit, shooting Lennie in order to protect him from Curley and the lynch mob looking to avenge the woman's death.
This production unfolds at a leisurely pace, with the shadows of violence and death threatening like a summer thunderstorm and then picks up pace and a crackling energy as the story spirals to its tragic conclusion.
Lennie is one of American literature’s most memorable characters and an actor’s dream role. Leandro Cano does the character full justice, giving a nuanced performance that captures Lennie’s childlike innocence, wide-eyed naivete and uncontrolled emotions.
Jarrod DiGiorgi as the pragmatic and quick-witted George and Mr. Cano develop a strong sense of the complex symbiotic George-Lennie relationship. That rapport extends to Mr. Cano’s scenes with several supporting characters, including Tommy LaFitte as Crooks, the sole black worker at the ranch, and Erin Lindsey Krom as the ill-fated Curley’s wife, whose character doesn’t even merit a name.
They’re backed by a solid supporting cast. John McManus does a heart-rending turn as Candy, an old ranch hand whose equally old dog is shot and killed by one of the other workers because it’s on its last legs and smells bad — a parallel he quickly draws to his own situation. The aged dog is played by a youthful performer named Copper, a 3-year-old bloodhound who’s an ambassador for Sit Means Sit Dog Training of Brentwood.
Director Robert A. Miller draws out the play’s strands of humor and pathos interwoven with stark realism. The Hollywood producer and director has directed several REP productions including the 2008 production of his father Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” In “Of Mice and Men,” he and the REP cast take the audience on a ride full of humor, horror and humanity.
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