I confess to being an unreserved admirer of John Steinbeck, particularly the book and play ‘Of Mice and Men’. I have seen various productions over the years; my favorite is Roxana Silbert’s starring William Rodell and Kristian Phillips here on The REP in 2019.

Sadly, I can’t say the same for this latest REP imagining I felt it failed to effectively capture or communicate Steinbeck’s compelling story.

Director Iqbal Khan has chosen a slow and heavy approach with strange gaps and lack of realism. It’s like a heart that is missing many beats and needs a pacemaker.

Add to this jumble of wood a Ciaran Bagnall ensemble and here comes the perfect storm. It stretches the length and breadth of the colossal stage like an homage to an abandoned Jenga box.

Bagnall’s cavernous set doesn’t help the actors project at all, nor does Khan’s inclination to have the actors deliver their dialogue backstage. On occasion, he became a test for the Krypton Factor to audibly participate.

Tom McCall stars as George, the wandering farmer whose burden is to care for his infant cousin Lennie (William Young). They share a mercurial bond: George as a protector and disciplinarian and Lennie as his best friend, an unfortunate boy trapped in a man’s body.

Together they scour the arid prairies for work on the ranch to raise money to buy a small piece of property of their own.

However, this is the time of the great American depression of the 1930s and his pursuit of a pipe dream.

That is until they meet crippled old cowboy Candy, who offers to throw away his life savings if he can join them. The Old Timer is affectionately played by Lee Ravitz.

Most of the action stories take place in the ranch bunkhouse where Riad Richie plays the madly jealous Curley, James Clyde – Boss, Simon Darwen – Slim, Reece Pantry – Crooks, Edware – Judge Carlson and Stuart Quigley is Whit.

This cowboy domain should have a Kevin Costner ‘Yellowstone’ feel, where ranch hands live their lives in a colorful pecking order, but it doesn’t.

Steinbeck’s writing is layered with jokes, obscenities, misogyny, classism, and racism, all wrapped up in redneck gossip. There are glimpses, but not enough to draw you into his world.

Maddy Hill brings a welcome bit of smut as Curley’s wife who wanders around looking for anything that might break the tedium.

There are great moments in the script, like when a mangy old dog is ordered to be brought out and shot. This is, of course, a puppet, as is the norm these days, oh, a real flesh and blood dog with whimpers and tears in our eyes.

Another is the fight between Curley and Lennie which is all air punching and stage applause.

Finally, we don’t even get a working revolver explosion in the biggest scene that’s been building from the start, just a wet sound effect off stage.

This production has good actors and I am sure that the company could offer more. Everything needs to trot, then gallop, even a little gallop, but he can’t get on the saddle.

Of Mice and Men is playing at the Birmingham REP until April 8th. Click here for schedules, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

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