As much as I love the razzle dazzle of fun, spectacle-type shows, it’s performances like this that really remind of what theater can do.
Unlike pretty much everyone else in the world, I did not read Of Mice and Men in high school. I’m a notorious pop culture sponge, so I definitely knew the major ups and downs going in, but seeing the play was definitely a fresh experience for me. I was able to attend the Rep’s Tech Talk for the show which, in addition to letting me know that figuring out scene changes is just as silly and laborious a process in a professional theater (“Stumps exit downstage, rocks exit upstage!”), gave me a great sneak peek into Mark Clements’ vision for the play. He talked about how though the story is set during a very specific historical time period that the concept of outsiders trying to achieve their American Dream still holds true today, and I very much agree with that. Part of the tragedy of this story for me is how much it does still ring true, in the ways that people who are different are marginalized and kept at arm’s length, forced to try to find their own way to survive. That even the simplest dream can be just past your reach, depending on where you came from. Y’all probably talked about this in high school, so I won’t get my English major on and write an essay about the themes.
As with other Steinbeck pieces (he wrote the script as well, if you didn’t know!), I love the economy of this story. It doesn’t feel sparse by any means, but nothing is wasted. Every scene and every word has meaning, and that’s something that really attracts me as a writer.
George and Lennie are, of course, the heart of the production, and Jonathan Wainwright and Scott Greer (respectively) both delivered amazing, moving performances. There was a comfort between them that spoke to how well these men know each other, something rare for migrant workers of the time as is constantly remarked upon by the text. The other major standout, for me, was Jim Pickering’s Candy. From his first appearance to his final monologue, I ached for Candy, in large part due to Pickering’s performance; in a lot of ways, at least in this production, I felt his suffering more strongly than any other character’s. There’s a sweetness to him that I really responded to.
This was also the first time in a long time that I sat on the extreme side at the Rep, and it really did remind me that there isn’t a bad seat in that house. Though I missed out on what exactly was happening at center upstage, I got so much closer to the actors which was even better. I’ve only been in shows on a more traditional proscenium stage, and I’ve always been fascinated by everything that goes into creating a show on a thrust stage that’s equally compelling from all angles. The Rep has definitely mastered that art!
Overall, this was a great production (the set is, as always, beautiful, and there are some really great scene changes [she said, like a true theater geek]), and I wished that I had a fresh tissue at the end of the show. Whether you’ve read the book a hundred times or are going into it fresh, I highly recommend seeing this one.
Of Mice and Mice is playing in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Milwaukee Rep now through February 21.