The Lucky One: Poor Tom, Poor Gerald
The accents are on in full in A. A. Milne’s The Lucky One, currently being staged by the Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row. It feels like an ever so proper British play, served up by a group of fine actors in search of a better Noel Coward play. The play, written by the man made famous by the children’s book, Winnie the Pooh in 1926, had a short Broadway run (40 performances) in 1924. Although some called his play, “perverse”, it was seen as his attempt to move away from whimsical to a more serio-comedic stance. Ludwig Lewisoh, of The Nation wrote in 1922 after its premiere at the Theatre Guild, that The Lucky One is “simple in a different world from all the other plays of Mr. Milne…It analyzes a moral problem in strictly dramatic terms with both delicacy of touch and weightiness of intention”.
This production, directed with a simplistic eye by Jesse Marchese is sadly lacking in that delicacy or the weightiness. It struggles to find intricacy in action or intent, playing British characters broadly. Terribly bogged down with a clunky set (set design: Vickie R. Davis) with two great staircases taking up so much space that the actors pile up on top of each other in a narrow sliver of acting space in front of a tiny couch. The actors try to engage, but never really connect. Sadly, after descending down that noisy and unnecessary staircase to make their entrance, they must combat some pretty bland direction and stereotypical acting choices, courtesy of Marchese.
It’s a compelling story though, that Milne wants to explore; the difficulty of truly knowing someone beyond the surface and the obstacles that are in place to distract. Two brothers, the youngest gifted with luck and charm, or so it seems by all those that surround him, while the oldest is looked down upon by family and friends. “Poor Bob” is what is usually said first (so often it starts to feel comedic) when others refer to him. It’s no wonder he became exactly that. All see him as struggling and inept in the world, except by the wise straight-talking great-aunt, Miss Farringdon, a beautifully droll Cynthia Harris. She sees something else, someone in need of some love and care. She also is the only one who sees something other than luck and charm in the younger brother, Gerald. Even though initially she doesn’t want to embrace Gerald, she is one of the few characters in this play willing to re-evaluate the substance of another beyond the surface.
Gerald, played with a big-grinned good natured charm by Robert David Grant (Pearl Theater/Acting Company’s Hamlet), seems to have it all: worshipping parents; the solid Sir James Farringdon (Wynn Harmon) and the mother, Lady Farringdon (Deanne Lorette), the kind fiancé, Pamela Carey (an engaging but slightly miscast Paton Ashbrook), and an assortment of others singing his praises in typical British postures. What Gerald doesn’t have is Bob. ‘Poor Bob’ is not one of his adoring fans. He is played with a dour one-note quality by Ari Brand (David Cromer’s The Neil Simon Plays), who seems stuck in an frown and an angry stance. And he has every right to be, especially as it becomes clear that his dis-connect with his family and profession have lead him into a tight spot of trouble. Turning, probably far too late, to his lucky brother for help, he gets met with a light-hearted indifference that sends the already over the edge older brother, even further down the rabbit hole. Or at least it should. The main problem with the direction is that the dynamics are all up front and obvious from every character’s first entrance, leaving the actors very little space (literally and figuratively) to emotionally develop their characters. We are forced to slog through the plot points in the first two acts in order to finally get to the clash where the emotionality of these two brothers can finally alter, shift, and develop beyond the one note given so far. It’s worth the wait to see these two finally given some meat to chew on, and they both raise to the occasion.
The ending is insightful and layered, something the story had been missing up until the final clash, and its great to see these two finally show some complexities. It’s a welcome arrival into the more authentic world of real human interaction, beyond the pseudo Coward play we’ve been privy to. The love story concerning Pamela is secondary and really just a catalyst to create this final moment. The ‘poor players’, being stuck in that narrow confined space, both literally, figuratively, and emotionally finally are given something worth investing in.