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'Of Mice and Men' retains its power in Pittsburgh Playhouse show

| Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Erin Krom as Curley's wife, Jarrod DiGiorgi as George and Leandro Cano as Lennie in The Rep's 'Of Mice and Men.'
Jeff Swensen
Erin Krom as Curley's wife, Jarrod DiGiorgi as George and Leandro Cano as Lennie in The Rep's 'Of Mice and Men.'
Weston Blakesley as Carlson, John McManus as Candy, Justin Fortunato as Whit and Jarrod DiGirogi as George in The Rep's 'Of Mice and Men.'
Jeff Swensen
Weston Blakesley as Carlson, John McManus as Candy, Justin Fortunato as Whit and Jarrod DiGirogi as George in The Rep's 'Of Mice and Men.'

The world has changed a lot since John Steinbeck's “Of Mice and Men” first appeared in print in 1937 as part of a collection of short stories.

But the need for a place to call home, a sense of purpose and someone to care about you hasn't.

That's made abundantly clear by The Rep's production of Steinbeck's tragedy that's playing through Sept. 21 in the Rauh Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

It's still as powerful and sad as when Steinbeck adapted the story for its Broadway debut in 1938.

Some may have seen the recent Broadway revival during its three-month run earlier this year. Many more know it from the 1939 black-and-white movie that starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie and Burgess Meredith as George, as well as the 1992 film with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.

For those who don't, it's the tale of two drifters who travel together getting temporary jobs doing manual labor such as digging ditches or planting and harvesting crops.

George does the planning, talking and negotiating for the pair. The childlike, mentally challenged Lennie compensates for his lack of intelligence with his size and strength by literally doing the heavy lifting during the long days of physical labor.

They have a small dream — getting together enough cash to buy a piece of land where they would control their own lives.

Steinbeck and director Robert R. Miller make it clear that Lennie and George are not the only people seeking the comfort of connection. Candy, an aging handicapped farmhand, cares for a half-blind, aging dog he raised from a puppy. Crooks, the ranch's sole African-American employee, seeks to escape the isolation of his segregated sleeping space in the barn.

Curley's wife, married only a few weeks, seeks far more attention than her husband can offer.

Over a four-day period on a Northern California farm, all of their lives and plans take a dramatic turn.

Britton Mauk's set design provides multiple locations that are deliberately spare, hard-edged and purposely lacking any of the comforts of home and family.

As Lennie and George, Leandro Cano and Jarrod DiGiorgi play the central characters with the comfortable ease of two longtime companions who both sustain and irritate the daylights out of each other.

The supporting cast, which includes Philip Winters as the Boss, David Whalen as Slim, Justin Fortunato as Whit and Weston Blakesley as Carlson, are all distant observers, suspicious of two men who travel together.

Luke Halferty's irritable, suspicious Curley adds to the feeling of menace and danger that Lennie and George sense from the moment they arrive.

Erin Lindsey Krom plays Curley's wife with an innocence and fragility that's at odds with the men's reactions to her bids for attention.

Despite the sad, but inevitable, outcome, it's Tommy Lafitte's Crooks and John McManus' Candy for whom you feel the most compassion. They raise the play from drama to tragedy when their newly awakened dreams collapse.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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