John Steinbeck's script for his terse Depression-era novella "Of Mice and Men," which enjoyed a successful Broadway run in 1937, gets a revival from SCR's David Emmes that's impressively faithful and disconcertingly humdrum. Part of the blame must be shouldered by Steinbeck, for his talents as a playwright pale in comparison to his gifts as a novelist.

John Steinbeck’s script for his terse Depression-era novella “Of Mice and Men,” which enjoyed a successful Broadway run in 1937, gets a revival from SCR’s David Emmes that’s impressively faithful and disconcertingly humdrum.

Part of the blame must be shouldered by Steinbeck, for his talents as a playwright pale in comparison to his gifts as a novelist. The iconic characters and social messages writ large are as much present here as in the book; what’s lacking are Steinbeck’s singular descriptive gifts, the way he, like Hemingway, could pungently describe a stream or a field or a card game with enviable verbal economy without sacrificing detail.

Secondly, Emmes has a relaxed hand, one that lets Steinbeck’s play unfold on its own, rather plodding, terms. Too, this SCR cast is not particularly distinguished as most of the players never rise above adequate.

That’s especially unfortunate when it comes to the leads, who really carry the freight in this play. Jefferson Breland’s hulking Lennie, as strong as he is slow, is fine, if occasionally obvious. But Jonathan Fuller’s scrappy George seems tentative when he should be sharp, uncon-vinced when he needs to be persuasive. It doesn’t help that he stumbles over his lines far too frequently.

The supporting cast, mostly SCR regulars, is better prepared but often hammy. Exceptions are Steve Mattila’s weather-beaten Carlson, who brings grit to a very small part, and Abdul Salaam El Razzac’s gripping performance as bowed-but-not-broken Crooks, a black stable hand who Steinbeck etched with sophistication and sympathy.

Neil Peter Jampolis’ rustic, wooden sets serve this production ideally. Even his attempt to recreate the river bank at which the story opens and closes is a triumph of illusion. Susan Denison Geller’s costumes, standard-issue migrant-worker wear, also fit the bill. And Tom Ruzika does some fine, atmospheric work with the lighting.

Of Mice and Men

South Coast Repertory

Production

A South Coast Repertory production of a play in two acts by John Steinbeck, based on his novel. Directed by David Emmes.

Cast

George - Jonathan Fuller Lennie - Jefferson Breland Candy - Richard Doyle The Boss - Art Koustik Curley - Rudy Young Curley's Wife - April Crowell Slim - Doug Tompos Carlson - Steve Mattila Whit - David Whalen Crooks - Abdul Salaam El Razzac

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