Park Square Theatre has recycled “Of Mice and Men” often — generally to young audiences in school shows, with a couple of evening dates. This year, the company is producing a public run in its basement stage.
John Steinbeck’s poignant novella bore witness to the loners and the dispossessed who were trampled by the Depression. Trouble hangs onto migrant workers Lennie and George like a curse as they fight for the slightest of dreams: to farm a few acres of their own.
To do so, they need to keep their heads down while they earn wages at a truck farm. But the odds are against them.
“I don’t like this place,” says E.J. Subkoviak’s Lennie, when the two men meet some of the denizens of the bunkhouse — particularly the Boss’ snarly son, Curley.
Subkoviak’s delivery is one of the few penetrating moments of the production, directed by Annie Enneking. Honest and simple in his work as a gentle, slow man, Subkoviak’s Lennie can frustrate, weary and still charm.
Subkoviak is joined on the positive side of the ledger by Patrick O’Brien, who almost takes over the show as Candy, a jittery shiver of nerves. Candy is the guy in the bunkhouse who has the money and the will to pitch in with Lennie and George to achieve their dream.
There are a couple of other actors who are OK, but overall, Enneking’s lifeless production plods along.
You don’t cry at the end of the play. Not even close. And that is because for whatever the reason, Michael Paul Levin’s George and Subkoviak’s Lennie share no chemistry.
And isn’t that the point of “Of Mice and Men”? Without tears of empathy, we get no payoff for a play that can often sound like a lot of the same people saying the same things.
That’s where most of this cast is. Jason Rojas as Slim, the honest mule skinner, stands out physically. Jane Froiland eventually finds the desperate loneliness as Curley’s wife, who wants to get out as much as any guy in the bunkhouse. Payton Woodson takes a thankless role as Crooks and commits to it.
Few directors have solved Park Square’s basement theater. Enneking does not join the club in her debut. At one point, Rojas sat down, his back to me, and Levin sat in front of him. So the entire scene, all I could see was Rojas’ back. Maybe this will encourage patrons to share at intermission what they missed in a particular scene. (What happened there? Was Slim mad? He’s a good guy, right? I couldn’t see.)
Technically, the production is thin, too. Costumer Elin Anderson has a few triumphs, putting a duster and Stetson on Peter Simmons, for example, that magnifies his short stage time. Michael P. Kittel, the lighting designer who succeeds wherever he works, produces a scheme that shines in the flimsy scenic look.
Graydon Royce is a longtime Star Tribune theater critic.
Of Mice and Men
What: By John Steinbeck. Directed by Annie Enneking.
Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu. & Nov. 24-25; 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat. thereafter. Ends Dec. 15.
Tickets: $20-$60. 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org.