John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic Of Mice and Men has never been noted for gut-busting laughs, but perhaps that’s just because it didn’t have enough clowns.
After all, Of Mice and Morro and Jasp — a 2012 Winnipeg Fringe favourite back for a run at Manitoba Theatre for Young People — manages to keep the (very) broad strokes of Steinbeck’s novella and still deliver plenty of giggles for older kids and adults alike.
In this metatheatrical version, clown sisters Morro (Heather Marie Annis) and Jasp (Amy Lee) are down on their luck but have dreams of owning their own farm — a place they can be simple clowns and Morro, the gawky and irrepressibly cheery sister in the duo, can have lots and lots of fluffy bunnies.
Jasp, the more prim and proper clown, gently tries to steer Morro toward that dream and also keep her on the path in their mission to act out Of Mice and Men.
If you haven’t read Of Mice and Men, don’t panic (neither has Morro, it turns out, to Jasp’s great frustration). There are jokes that will work better if you have, but the show also works just fine if you haven’t.
Drawing, however loosely, from such dark material, Of Mice and Morro and Jasp has a tricky tonal balancing act, and largely pulls it off. There are moments where that balance feels a bit off — some scenes (like Jasp’s discovery of the dead mice Morro has been carrying around) feel like particularly dark turns in a clown show being presented for a younger audience.
But in other spots, the show embraces that tonal variation to great effect. Morro’s eventual realization of how their story — based as it is on Steinbeck’s — must end is a surprisingly touching moment.
For all that, though, it is…