Sunday, October 15, 2006

Of haunted "Mice and Men"

My freelance review:
Forget the haunted houses this Halloween season. For longer-lasting effect, treat yourself to the haunting production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The production takes the audience away to a completely different era and situation -- the Great Depression and the lives of two ranch workers, George and Lennie, in their quest for survival and, just maybe, the American dream. The play opens on the night before George and Lennie go to a ranch where they've been hired to work. As they camp out under a stunningly-recreated, star-filled night sky in rural California, it's obvious that George is the care-giver for Lennie -- a mentally-retarded and hard-working man who depends on George not only for day-in and day-out guidance but also to recount for him, over and over again, in extreme detail, George's vision of a dream existence for the two.

The classic story plays out very well on the intimate stage at the Rep. The sets are both intricately designed and elegantly simple and don't get in the way of the rich story.

The entire cast does a terrific job bringing Steinbeck's deep characters to life. Brendan Averett's eager-to-please Lennie and Marc Aden Gray's restless George play off each other quite effectively. Anne Bowles is very strong as the character destined to introduce trouble for Lennie.

Also, an observation: There were quite a few in-unison "uhhhh's" from the audience at key dramatic points, suggesting an audience that was coupled with the production and completely taken away from "real life."

Steinbeck's story, full of foreshadowing and symbolism, produces an overall haunting effect. A loud gunshot ends the production but does nothing to end the haunting, lingering distinction that the production triggers between living and being alive.

"Of Mice and Men" plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5.

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