The stories included are equal parts humorous, stirring or sobering but always meaningful and intimately personal. Deblinger is a natural storyteller, and every tale is polished and fully developed, and–more importantly–consistent with the show’s overall theme. Further, Deblinger is a fantastic impressionist, and the show contains no less than 15-20 fully realized character impersonations. The versatility he displays is a testament to both his natural abilities as well as his dedication to his craft.
The stories range from more light-hearted ones such as that of a teenaged Deblinger’s misadventures with a pellet gun, an encounter with a stray dog, or the reenactment of a terse encounter during a family dinner. Deblinger touches on his time with the Labyrinth Theater Company (which he co-founded) and reflects on the loss of his late friend/fellow company member Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he often–to the audience’s amusement–airs his grievances with growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household.
Interspersed between this carefully curated selection of stories are scenes between Deblinger and his father, his father’s health further failing with each new scene. These firsthand accounts are a sobering reminder of the fleeting nature of life, but Deblinger’s self-awareness is impeccable and thus the show never feels truly despondent.
Technically, Lucky Penny is a two-man show. Fred Johnson–jazz musician and friend of Deblinger–contributes a score of sorts to the production, as well as playing the role of the Orderly. Seated on stage, Johnson provides a vocal soundtrack backed by a bongo drum and a guitar intermittently. Johnson’s voice is powerful, and his soulful musical interludes allow brief respite between Deblinger’s moving tales.
Directed by Ben Snyder, Lucky Penny is a seamless and taut production, and the stories have been organized in an easily transmutable way. Snyder’s hand as director is surely responsible for Deblinger’s polished impersonations, which are each acute and notably distinct. The setting of Studio Theater B at Stella Adler Studios is befitting of such an intimate project, and imparts a lasting impression on the privileged few seated in the audience.
The real success here is that the production never feels bogged down by the potentially sorrowful content. Deblinger’s performance is outstanding, and the contrast provided by his accomplice Johnson is the making of a formidable duo. Deeply personal yet amazingly light-hearted, Lucky Penny is an unabashedly original memoir which is full of life lessons but also delightfully entertaining.
Lucky Penny (through January 28, 2017)
Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company & Ensemble Force
Studio Theater B at Stella Adler Studio of Acting, 31 West 27th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, please call 212-689-0087 or visit http://www.stellaadler.com
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission