By Bob Evans
KC Rep brings one of the all-time favorite novels of The Great Depression Era to the stage as John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” opened with a capacity crowd at the downtown venue, The Copaken Stage on Oct. 26 for a run, guaranteed to sell out many performances.
The story of two workers traveling the ranches of California depicts the stories of countless Americans who drifted from place to place seeking employment and their piece of the American Dream. George Milton and Lennie Small show the grit and heartache of such workers in the Salinas area where Steinbeck set his most classic stories.
“Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath” tell similar stories of desperation and hope of people struggling against a cold America as they chase their dreams while watching them fade against the reality of a brutal time. In this case, “Of Mice and Men” shows the rough, harsh existence of a good-hearted drifter and his mentally-challenged friend in a heart-breaking, tragic story.
For this piece, Jason Chanos, Artistic Director for the KC Rep, assembled a superb cast of Kansas City local actors to mount the classic story of true grit and heart. The cast is led by Jake Walker as George Milton and Rusty Sneary as Lennie Small. The two create a bond that send electricity throughout the auditorium and just pulls the audience into their characterizations from the opening scene to the not-so-shocking tragic end.
The cast is: Scott Cordes as Carlson, Molly Denninghoff as Curley’s Wife, Kyle Thomas Dyck as Curley, Robert Elliott as Candy, David Fritts as Boss, L. Roi Hawkins as Crooks, Dalton Mobley as Whit, Brian Paulette as Slim, Rusty Sneary as Lennie, and Jake Walker as George. The production team led by Jason Chanos is: Jack Magaw, scenic design, Maria Noel Nieto, costume design; Jeffrey Cady, lighting design; Kevin O’Donnell, composer/sound design; John Wilson, fight choreographer; Kelsey Brennan York, production stage manager; Afton Earp, assistant stage manager; Kim Martin Cotten, assistant director; Christian M. Taylor, assistant scenic design; Bryce Foster, assistant lighting design; Allison Hanks, wig design; Calan Welder, dramaturg; Chip Miller, casting. This production is a co-production with UMKC Theatre.
True to the original novel, “Of Mice and Men” shows the loneliness of a group of ranch hands, their boss, Curley and Curley’s wife. Each character presents a macrocosm of the population.
George wants his American Dream, but travels with mentally-challenged Lenny who is strong as an ox, but probably never could spell the word. Lennie, pure of heart cannot remember a lot, has no education and no future. Slim knows his craft and has accepted his lot in life and takes pride in what he can do. The boss is just that–the boss and expects a hard day’s work for a day’s wages. Carlson knows his station in life and shows no empathy toward others. As a new, young worker on the ranch, Whit has not confronted his reality or
formulated his dream. Being a Black person on a ranch in California in the 1930, Crooks knows he’s a social outcast in a society where he cannot possess even a glimpse of a dream. As the boss’ son, Curley knows he will inherit the ranch and that a big bully attitude may overcome his small stature and weakness of character. As the only female in this male-dominated society, Curley’s wife, longs for understanding and compassion while overcome with loneliness and a hope for a more-fulfilling acceptance.
All characters need what is out of their grasp and their compelling story confronts that with rough reality. This cast allows their character’s needs power the story. With the talent and care necessary, the cast presents a touching slice of American life in a framework that chisels the story into the hearts of the audience.
Theatre patrons who enjoy a gritty drama, do not miss this show. Steinbeck’s compelling story tugs at the heartstrings before ripping them with the harshness of reality. “Of Mice and Men” continues to entertain as an American classic by one of America’s most renowned story-tellers.
“Of Mice and Men” by KC Rep proves again that quality work continues as they continue to raise the bar. The technical aspects such as lighting, sound design, scenic design, props, casting create beautiful and meaningful productions for the Kansas City community. This show will bring the audiences to their feet each performance.
The show uses a lot of strong language (not necessarily adult language), more so than the novel which limits the usage to the first chapter or two to set the characters. For the live version, the language carries throughout the two acts. The theme of the show is dark and viewers will find no humor in the dialogue. With that in mind, Act I runs about 90 minutes and Act II runs about an hour. The content may be too intense for under middle school ages.
“Of Mice and Men” runs through Nov. 17. S Tickets for “Of Mice and Men” start at $38 (student tickets with i.d. start at $10) and may be purchased by visiting http://kcrep.org/show/of-mice-and-men or by calling the KCRep box office at 816-235-2700. Groups of nine or more receive discounted tickets, call Andrew Cotlar at 816-235-6122 for details. For information about student matinees, contact Lydia Fuqua at email@example.com or 816.235.2707.
Tags: Of Mice and Men, KC Rep, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Copaken Stage, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment.