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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Old Story, New Look

Theater Reviews

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Far from the visiting Broadway puppet shows of the Downtown theater district, Andrew Edwin Ross and Daniel Koester spoke an old familiar dialogue from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men as the tragic story was brought to the stage by the UW-Milwaukee Department of Theatre and director Rebecca Holderness.

Everything was just a bit out of sync of expectation for one of America’s most popular novels. A lot of thought went into the stark (perhaps minimalist) set and the use of space onstage, but in the end the production felt like a fully costumed, finely tuned dress rehearsal.

The muted production elements did owner (Evan Weisfeldt) to the violent yet doltish emissary of the White Citizens Counsel (Jason Will) and the waitress’s would-be suitor (Mario Andre Alberts), seem to doubt themselves and their surroundings. Olivia and the cafe proprietor’s teen daughter, Sally (Kathryn Mooers), appear unwavering in their fight for and support of democratic justice.

Acacia’s usual prerogative to produce Christian-themed drama extended not only to the church and preaching milieu of which Olivia spoke to justify her controversial actions and informed civil rights protests. A variety of recorded soul gospel plays before the play and during intermission. And in looking back at that tempestuous time, Blessed Assurance alludes to the furtherance of racial harmony today.

serve to focus all attention on what the characters were going through remarkably well, however. Lennie (Ross) wasn’t that much bigger than George (Koester), or anyone else for that matter, but Ross’ portrayal of the doomed man was sympathetic enough to cast the character in a new light. He didn’t slur his words or over-exaggerate Lennie’s mental dimness.

With Lennie seeming just a bit more like a human than a force of nature, the play’s central conflicts almost looked new again. Of Mice and Men closed March 2. UWM’s next show, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, opens in April.