Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hopes and Dreams A Review of REP’s Of Mice and Men Sept. 5th 2014 Opening Performance

Hopes and Dreams
Review of REP’s Of Mice and Men Sept. 5th 2014 Performance

From:  Roving Pittsburgher Report and
Written By:  Stephanie Curtice  |  Sept. 08, 2014

It is no secret that we live in a ridiculously fast paced world these days.  And for opening night, September 5th, 2014 of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, there was a pause.  It was a beautiful pause and a challenging one.  Point Park University’s “The Rep” Professional Theater Company has set the bar for the 2014-2015 season for ALL artistic performances in the Pittsburgh area.  And they set it high.

I smiled with sincere pleasure in my heart, chuckled in humor, stirred in quiet disappointment, felt heartbreak, and was moved by a very deep yearning of hope.  One might think that could be sensory overload, but I think that was the genius of Steinbeck and the amazing artistry of this cast.

Set during the Depression in the rolling golden hills of California, we join roaming farmhands George (Jarrod DiGiorgi) and Lennie (Leandro Cano) leisurely camping under the stars on the eve of starting work at a new ranch.  They are an unlikely pair for the times; Lennie Small, a massively sized and strong man with but a wee child’s intellect, and George Milton, a practical and witty man who tries to look after Lennie as they work hard to pursue the great American Dream.  As they report to the nearby ranch, the simple story of two men just lookin’ for an honest day’s work, quickly becomes complicated.

Carlson, Candy, Whit, George and
Copper the Bloodhound
Photo Courtesy: The REP
George and Lennie’s brotherly bond and hope for the future of owning their own land someday becomes one of great intrigue, inspiration, and suspect to practically everyone on the ranch.  The ranch superintendant Slim (David Whalen) is accustom to, but still struggles with the lonely nature of the job, and notes the men’s loyalty to each other.  Candy (John McManus) grapples with his increasing age and fate to greater degree when a fellow ranch hand shoots his aging hound dog to put it out of its misery.  Crooks (Tommy Lafitte), who lives in the barn where manure is stored because he is black, has such lack of hope for his own future that he thinks of Lennie as being even more “stupid” than he’d first thought, because of Lennie’s wild story that he and George will someday own their own land and live from its plentiful bounty.  The Boss’s son Curley (Luke Halferty, a PPU senior) is always looking for a fight, trying to prove his dominance, and looking for his wandering new bride (Erin Lindsey Krom).  And while Culey’s Wife says she just wants someone to talk to because she’s lonely, all the ranch hands know that she is not only pretty, but a pretty good way to loose their job if seen talking or anything else with her.

The struggles of Lennie’s fellow ranch hands are far beyond his understanding.  He, for the most part, is a gentle giant with a simple understanding of life and his surroundings.  What Lennie knows is that he loves to pet soft things like a dead mouse in his pocket, his new puppy, soft fabric, and someday big soft furry rabbits that he’ll feed alfalfa, that is reaped from their own land, at their own place complete with a windmill.  He and George’s dream will come true if he puts his overwhelming strength to good use and doesn’t get in any trouble.  But even, he had a sense that things aren't going to end well when he said, “Its mean here.”

Now before I get too carried away sounding like a stuffy literary elitist with some profound academic understanding about Steinbeck’s work or specifically about his 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men,” I have a confession.  To the astonishment of a gentleman I spoke with at intermission, I have never read the book.  It felt embarrassing to admit.  In high school the book was required reading for the English honors students, which I was not.  So as we were walking back to our truck, I asked my analytical chemistry professor boyfriend if the point of the work was to challenge the reader/audience member to think about all the very serious social issues the story raises.  During my little literature lesson he responded, “Well,  Steinbeck just traveled and wrote what he observed, but because it does depict so many issues, that is why it’s so frequently used in the classroom.  BUT because it so vividly depicts them that is why some people want it banned from schools completely.”  Now I have some thoughts on that.

“Of Mice and Men” shows how far we’ve thankfully come as a society in many ways, but it takes work to maintain progress and there is work still yet to be done.  The will to do that work is displayed best, but not solely by George, in the form of empathy and then a willingness to dutifully respond with action.   Empathy is what has given our society the inspiration to rise above the wrongness of slavery, segregation, and using the terms like nigger and retard.  So if you don’t think that teaching empathy in a historically accurate context is a good idea, that’s just sad.  We’re not talking about 17th century history either.  This is our country’s recent past, 50-80 years, as in there are still people around who lived it, and to some degree still do.  Gender inequality, racism, economic disparity, euthanasia, treatment of the aging or disabled, and mental healthcare are all contemporary global and local social issues.

Lennie (Leandro Cano) and George (Jarrod DiGiorgi)
Photo Courtesy: The REP
I’m going to veer back on to course here… I got off course because the story is good, as tragic as it is, and the fact that it was performed beautifully.  The set was simple and perfectly so.  Every single cast member WAS their character - living the story.  The superb acting of especially Leandro Cano and Jarrod DiGiorgi gave this stage performance the robustness of a movie amidst the seaming simplicity.  They brought to life their characters and the bond between Lennie and George to show the simple and beautiful notion that hopes and dreams are worth smiling for, even amidst the turmoil of social injustices.  I have not been to a more deserving performance of multiple standing ovations yet in Pittsburgh.

Additional Performances:
Friday, September 5 - Sunday, September 21, 2014  |  Pittsburgh Playhouse - Rauh Theatre

For more information and tickets, please visit

By:  Stephanie Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment