16 October 2012

Two Men (and some rabbits) R Us

One need not have ever read John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men to know of the two Depression-era drifters, Lenny and George, who dream of “livin’ off the fat of the land” and raising rabbits.  They have become a part of our collective American memory, a pair whose dream is, on some level, our own.
This sympathy – and the seemingly natural affinity we share with them – are felt immediately as they enter the stage in the production that opens the fourth season at Playhouse onPark in West Hartford.   And the performances by Jed Aicher (Lenny) and Shannon Michael Wamser (George) only deepen that connection as the play unfolds.  We come to understand – no, to feel – the bond (i.e., the frustration, the duty…the love) that helps the duo navigate the trials (economic, social, psychological) they face in their wanderings.
The action of the play is simple, and in some ways, inescapable, but, as directed by Playhouse-co-founder Sean Harris, that simplicity in no way stunts its power.  The chemistry between the two leads has both a natural ease and a palpable tension that has us living on the edge with them.
I saw the play during last week’s previews and, at that point, the rest of the company of talented actors – led by Clark Beasley, Jr. (Candy), Kimberly Shoniker (Curley’s Wife), and Dustin Fontaine (Slim) – hadn’t quite jelled as a unit.  Individually they were very strong (e.g., Ms. Shoniker’s fateful scene with Lenny), but, on the night I saw it, the larger the number of actors on the stage, the less a scene seemed to click.  Even despite that, however, the heart of the play – the relationship of Lenny and George – kept this reviewer riveted.
As always, it seems, at Playhouse on Park, the production values are spot on.  The set (by Tina Louise Jones), lighting (by Marcus Abbott), and costume (Erin Kacmarcik) design are straightforward yet evocative – allowing the audience to focus on the lives playing out in front of us.
The title of the play, of course, is taken from the famous line by Scottish poet Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft aglay” (i.e., “often go awry”), and, while that may hold true for Steinbeck’s characters, if your plans include an engaging and emotional night of theatre, then a trip to Playhouse on Park before October 28 will go exactly as intended


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