Staging a well-loved play is a precarious pursuit, one that risks drawing the ire of purists. Producing a play based on a well-loved book can be even more tenuous. Cut too much original material, and you've compromised the story. Leave too much intact, and the play fosters no unique artistic vision.
Fortunately, The REP's Of Mice and Men has an advantage over other page-to-stage adaptations: It was written by the novel's author. The very year of the book's release, John Steinbeck penned this adaptation of his beloved tale about two bindlestiffs searching for their place in the world. As a result, the spirit of the play — and its earthy and sometimes coarse dialogue — remains mostly intact, while Steinbeck allows each of his characters room to grow under the tutelage of a skilled director.
This time, that director is Robert A. Miller, son of playwright Arthur Miller, and though his vision of Of Mice and Men takes few risks, the overall result is one that should satisfy fans of literature and theater alike.
Miller's varied cast includes Leandro Cano as Lennie, a grown man with the faculties of a child, and a sometimes dangerous temper. Jarrod DiGiorgi turns in a surly performance as George, softening only in the moments when pal Lennie is at his weakest. The supporting players boost this production and add subtleties not so clearly rendered in the source material. Erin Lindsey Krom transforms Curley's wife from a common "tart" into a lonely outsider who's as desperate as George and Lennie to escape an unjust life. David Whalen's Slim and Tommy LaFitte's Crooks are the voices of reason amidst a din of vulgar prejudice, and John McManus plays sensitive dreamer Candy with unbridled pathos.
The scenic design by Britton Mauk captures the downtrodden hominess of early 20th-century rural life, and Michael Montgomery's costume design enhances the Depression-set piece.
With a cast of characters trapped in cages — ones created by society, bad luck and personal regret — Of Mice and Men explores how close the American dream can seem while remaining hopelessly out of reach.