"OF MICE AND MEN," Pioneer Theatre Company, through Nov. 3, www.pioneertheatre.org
Though most have read a Steinbeck novel in high school, it may have been a few years since you revisited the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work. Now is the perfect time to do that.
Pioneer Theatre Company opened its production of the stage adaptation of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” with little fanfare, but with big focus on the master’s words.
Under the direction of Mary B. Robinson, this streamlined production is beautiful, putting the focus squarely in the right place: Steinbeck’s words and his characters.
The set, designed by James Noone, is almost nonexistent but complements Robinson’s approach perfectly: Large, off-white strips of cloth hang as a backdrop, a couple of wooden structures move to serve as both beds and walls, and there's an intriguing mound of dirt that serves as the floor, providing an earthy texture to every scene.
Robinson also utilizes the cast beyond their acting skills: having them facilitate all set changes and offer sound effects. The cast also provides scene-changing music using harmonicas and washboards, and is even involved in Michael Gilliam’s light design with a wonderful use of flashlights.
It is the actors who make this production sizzle. Without a powerful George/Lenny relationship, the show would fall flat. And Mark David Watson (Lennie) and Joe Tapper (George) are certainly up to the challenge. They play off of each other nicely. They capitalize on their differences, which makes the implausible friendship make perfect sense.
Watson captures a heavy-footed, jumpy Lennie who is as big in heart and hopes as he is in size and strength. That, coupled with Tapper’s driven, protective (and mostly exhausted) George, is wonderfully portrayed and supported by an outstanding ensemble. The entire 10-person ensemble turns in very fine performances, and Bridget (the dog in the opening night’s performance) is a heartbreaker.
This production of “Of Mice and Men” is everything theatergoers love about good theater: a powerful story, sets and costumes to support it, and performances that are believable, carefully crafted and engaging.