Review: Skilled ensemble defines loneliness in Seattle Rep's 'Of Mice and Men'
Jerry Manning directs "Of Mice and Men" at Seattle Rep, through April 10, 2011.
Seattle Times theater critic
'Of Mice and Men'By John Steinbeck. Through April 10, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle; $15-$64 (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)
THEATER REVIEW |
A broad stretch of blue sky with puffy white clouds is the backdrop for Seattle Repertory Theatre's "Of Mice and Men." And the rose-tinted sunrises (lit by Robert Aguilar) are stunning.
But in this retelling of the 1937 classic, the stark beauty of rural Central California evoked in Jennifer Zeyl's set is an ironic juxtaposition to the stark bleakness of John Steinbeck's classic tale of Depression-era migrant workers.
In Jerry Manning's interesting and moving staging, the Mutt-and-Jeff duo of bright, edgy George (Troy Fischnaller) and his childlike bear of a companion, Lennie (Charles Leggett) are set way to the back of the stage in their first scene, at a makeshift creekside campsite.
As an irritated George upbraids the dangerously innocent Lennie, and as the two fantasize about owning their own little spread, they seem disconcertingly far away.
But the point, it dawns on you, is that they're meant to be mere "mice" in this majestic landscape — part of the horde of itinerant, "forgotten" men without kin or home, forced by national calamity to drift from ranch to ranch, job to job, to live.
Lennie and George come closer to us when the drama (adapted from his own novel by Steinbeck, with great help from writer-director George S. Kaufman), moves on to the ranch where their next menial job awaits.
Here, among a motley crew warily thrown together, "Of Mice and Men" evokes central themes of the dark side of the American experience: the jocular camaraderie barely concealing the essential loneliness and isolation of "rugged individualism." The meanness of poverty, and exploitation of labor. The fear of forming bonds in cutthroat times.
But there's also that nagging, almost taunting dream of community, and ownership — of the Eden where, Lennie often parrots, you can "live off the fat of the land."
These themes are not imposed with subtlety. But they are compelling, woven into a briskly paced narrative.
And they are powerfully embodied in the figures Steinbeck drew, and at Seattle Rep most fully realized by Teagle F. Bougere, as the bitter, doubly isolated black stablehand Crooks; Sean G. Griffin, as the anxious old coot Candy; and Jim Gall, as the wisest, most empathetic but also drifting crew boss, Slim.
Apart from the evil rancher's son Curley (Seanjohn Walsh, in a cartoonish cameo that feels jarringly off here), every character is drawn with compassion — even Curley's dangerous, pathetic young wife (played by Elise Karolina Hunt), who unwittingly triggers an inevitable tragedy.
Of course, the most iconic figures are George and Lennie, well-conveyed by the alert Fischnaller and by Leggett, who is very convincing as a slow 6-year-old trapped in a big adult body. But they perform with unusual shading and restraint, as part of what Manning has realized as an ensemble drama — and a familiar world of hurt, that still gets to you.
Misha Berson: email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.