Pioneer Theatre Company's Of Mice and Men is raw, compelling drama that is both complex in its simplicity and simple in its complexity. The production, expertly directed by Mary B. Robinson, rivals plays on Broadway in its impressiveness.
Of Mice and Men was adapted by John Steinbeck from his 1937 novel, which would become a classic of American literature. It shows the life of migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression and focuses on two men, named George and Lennie, who take care of each other in their work and travels.
The cast is filled to the brim with top-notch talent with prestigious training and impressive credits. The actors bring real depth and life to their characters-indeed, so much that they seem to be living the play rather than performing it.
Joe Tapper brings the perfect mix of gravitas and optimism as George. He is a father figure who has resolved not to shirk his responsibilities, all while wishing they weren't his to bear.
Mark David Watson plays Lennie with innocence and sensitivity. The joy and despair he intermittently displays help make him identifiable and empathetic to the audience.
Georgia Warner lights up the stage in every appearance as Curley's Wife. Not only does she create a truly sympathetic character that's fully realized, she feels completely authentic in the role. It is rare for a contemporary actor to fit within a historical era as well as she does in her voice, mannerisms, look, and general state of being. In fact, it often seems as if she has stepped directly out of a 1930s film.
The sparse, minimalist scenic design by Broadway's James Noone is fitting for the subject matter and mostly effective. Especially noteworthy is the creative shifting of basic set pieces to form entirely new locations. The use of dirt, straw, and water adds the right amount of realism to the scenes. Less effective are the large numbers of stage lights purposefully left bare on stage as part of the minimalism of the design. This may have worked in a more urban piece, but not for a story so far removed from technology. Notwithstanding, the lighting design by Broadway's Michael Gilliam is evocative and stunning in its subtlety.
Of Mice and Men plays through November 3, 2012. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org.
L-R: Joe Tapper (George), Georgia Warner (Curley's Wife) and Mark David Watson (Lennie). Photo by Alexander Weisman.