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A CurtainUp Review
The Lucky One
By Elyse Sommer
Back in 2004, Jonathan Bank, that intrepid rescuer of forgotten plays, presented his audiences with another side of the beloved children's book author by mounting two Milne plays The Truth About the Blayds & Mr. Pim Passes By. These charming period pieces were brought back in repertory in 2004 ( my review) with the same actors performing in both.
The Truth About the Blayds and Mr.a Pim Passes By were Milne's most popular plays. But since he was a prolific playwright it's understandable that the Mint would want to explore a less well-known work like The Lucky One.
Written in 1917 during Milne's World War I military service, The Lucky One dramatizes the sibling rivalry between two brothers — Gerald, (Robert David Grant) the younger, a charming golden boy; Bob (Ari Brand), the older less charismatic and accomplished. It was staged in 1922, closed after just 40 performances but resurfaced six years later, re-titled All About Gerald. The always informative Mint program notes makes no mention of how long that production lasted or whether it had any sort of after life.
Mint Associate Director Jesse Marchese is now at the helm. True to the company's practice of remaining true to the original, the major change in his production is that two of the three acts are conflated to eliminate one intermission. Consequently, what we get is a play with a classic and easy to identify with central conflict but also a major flaw: too many under developed and basically superfluous characters.
The script's characterization problems unfortunately, undermine the very fine final confrontation which drives home Milne's twisty thematic point: that the seemingly self-satisfied, emotionally tone-deaf have-it-all Gerald is as vulnerable as his less successful at games, work and love older brother. In fact, he turns out to be more capable of grace and forgiveness than "poor, old Bob."
While Marchese and set designer Vicki R. Davis did a fine job with George Kelly's Fatal Weakness in 2014, neither the direction or set for The Lucky One do much to downplay its weaknesses.
Davis has created a handsome upstage staircase, with a circular stairway at either side of a balcony. It's backed by a photographic image of the two brothers as toddlers. The downstage playing area contains just enough furniture to suggest the living room of the aristocratic Farringdon family's country home. It's all very handsome and promises to purposefully offset the fact that the downstairs area is more sparsely detailed than is usual for drawing room and country home plays of bygone days.
However, once the play gets underway that set turns out to work against bringing out the play's strengths. Attractive as that staircase is, there's practically no time spent by anyone on its upper level. Gerald makes a few appearances up there, and so does his great aunt Miss Farringdon (Cynthia Harris, a stellar performer and a founding member of TACT, the Actors Company). Harris would no doubt be be much more comfortable, and just as effectively make the most of her all too brief appearances, without having to gingerly work her way down those stairs.
The counter productive aspects of that impressive upstage part of Davis's set become more and more evident as the stage fills up with all but one member of the 10-member cast. With so little furniture in the Farringdon living room, the various conversations unfold with most of them standing around once they're all assembled. There are also some awkward entrances and exits, either from behind a sheer curtain substituting for doors leading to the grounds outside or to and from other rooms. What's more, the change of setting for the second act is minimal to the extreme since it relies on a change of flowers alongside the staircase. Those flowers are arranged by Mason (Peggy J. Scott, another superfluous character), the family's still in residence nurse.
In these days when the high cost of putting on a play keeps cast sizes small a production with a generously sized cast, is most welcome. But in this case, these minor characters do little to enrich the basic story or dialogue.
Gerald's young friend Tommy does serve the double purpose of being first on stage to fill us in on why Bob has come to be known as "poor old Bob" in the Farringdon family's circle. He and Letty Herbert (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) also add a touch of light romance and fun to the play's darker, more serious central dramatic situation. However, neither Tommy's interchanges with Henry Wentworth (Michael Frederic), another visitor to the Farringdon summer home, or with Letty add much in the way of sparkling wit.
While Pamela Carey (Paton Ashbrook), the young woman Bob met first but lost to Gerald, is certainly crucial to the story, even she could use a little more background to qualify as a fully developed character.
The pompous father (Wynn Harmon) and psychologically clueless mother (Deanne Lorette) are rather cartoonish, stiff-upper lip stereotypes. However, they do make it clear that their misguided parenting ratcheted up the rivalry and Bob's unfortunate career in finance.
To be fair, the actors all do their best with the parts they've been given. Ari Brand, whose performance as the main character in My Name is Asher Lev I still remember, impressively conveys Bob's resentful gloom and doom persona and aggressive neediness. Robert David Grant comes fully into his own during that final confrontation with his brother. If only The Lucky One were as powerful throughout as during that final scene.
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The Lucky One by A.A. Milne
Directed by Jesse Marchese
Cast: Paton Ashbrook (Pamela Carey), Ari Brand (Bob Farringdon), Andrew Fallaize (Thomas Todd), Michael Frederic (Henry Wentworth), Robert David Grant (Gerald Farringdon), Wynn Harmon (Sir James Farringdon), Cynthia Harris (Miss Farringdon), Deanne Lorette (Lady Farringdon), Peggy J. Scott (Mason) and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw (Letty Herbert )
Sets: Vicki R. Davis
Costumes: Martha Hally
Lighting: Christian Deangelis
Sound: Toby Algya
Wigs and Hair: Robert Charles Valance
Stage Manager: Jeff Meyers
Runnng Time: One hour and 50 minutes, including one intermission
Mint Theater at the Beckett 410 West 42nd Street
From 4/17/17; opening 5/18/17; closing 6/25/17
Tuesday – Saturday 7:30 pm Saturday & Sunday 2:00pmWednesday 5/17 & 5/31 at 2:00pm No performance 5/30.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 5/13 press preview
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