Pictured: Rusty Sneary and Jake Walker. Photo by Cory Weaver.
By Malcolm Gibbs
In John Steinbeck’s self-penned theatrical retelling of his classic OF MICE AND MEN migrant farm worker George Milton is on an unending quest to keep his traveling companion and friend Lennie Small — a mentally disabled hulk of a man — out of trouble as they travel across California looking for jobs during The Great Depression. Fruitlessly trying to save enough money to buy some land of their own and achieve their American Dream.
If you’re new to this particular tale, you’ll be sucked in by its searing lessons on freedom, confinement, and friendship. But don’t write it off if you’re already familiar. For me, a fan of the novella, every moment of KCRep’s production was colored by the impeding eventuality, and it’s all the better for it.
Current Interim Artistic Director Jason Chanos directs this Steinbeck classic, choosing to focus on the American Dream. Every character in OF MICE AND MEN has their own version of the American Dream, as well as their own version of why they won’t be able to achieve it. From issues of race, gender, disability, and socioeconomic status, Chanos masterfully brings to light what prevents each of the characters from achieving their own American Dream.
Rusty Sneary perfectly folds Lennie’s disabilities into his character. Making sure his disability doesn’t define his character but instead is one small part of an incredibly complex portrayal. Jake Walker, in the role of George, perfectly balances the compassion and frustration he feels towards Lennie, generating true chemistry between the two actors.
Robert Elliot as Candy stands out among the other characters, getting some hearty laughs. As well as Brian Paulette, who brings a complexity to the character of Slim that always leaves you wanting to know more. Lastly, L. Roi Hawkins as Crooks delivers a powerful scene about race that still rings relentlessly true to our society (it’s unfortunately lost in the format of the play, quickly swept under the rug to pivot back to George and Lennie’s dreams.)
All of these complex and interesting characters are aided by a marvelous scenic design by Jack Magaw, allowing each scene to feel different than the one before it with the use of sliding barn walls that create all of the locations of the play. Lighting designer Jeffrey Cady shifts from day to night without ever shocking the audience, creating beautiful stage pictures, especially through the lightning in the barn in Act II.
Kansas City Rep delivers once again with an incredibly complex and well-paced production of OF MICE AND MEN that helps to remind us why certain works are considered classics.
OF MICE AND MEN runs at the Copaken Stage at the Kansas City Rep through November 17th. For more information and tickets visit kcrep.org.