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The Lucky One

Revival of forgotten A.A. Milne play from 1922 begins as a drawing room comedy about the rivalry between two brothers and ends up quite serious.

Robert David Grant and Cynthia Harris in a scene from “The Lucky One” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Although A.A. Milne is best known today for the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin, he was once one of Britain’s most famous playwrights, in a class with Shaw, Barrie, Maugham and Lonsdale, even having three plays on Broadway simultaneously. The Mint Theater Company which had a critical success in 1997 with Milne’s Mr. Pim Passes By and in 2004 with his The Truth About Blayds has continued its mission by rediscovering his 1922 The Lucky One, which has been described as his first seriocomedy.

Inspired by Milne’s the situation with his two older brothers Barry and Ken, The Lucky One concerns the rivalry between two siblings in a county family. Younger brother, tall handsome Gerald has always been a success, school, sports, career, friends, women. The apple of his parents’ eye, he is a rising star in the British foreign office. Everything he puts his hand to turns to gold. The elder brother always referred to as “Poor Bob” has been a failure and has always lived in his younger brother’s shadow. However, Bob has always resented playing second fiddle to his younger brother even if he has regularly let Gerald get him out of trouble. The real problem is he has never told the obliviously Gerald how he has felt. Gerald has recently become engaged to Pamela, a friend that Bob brought down to meet the family.

On this particular day in June, Bob who has been part of Marcus and Farrington, a financial institution in the City, reveals to Gerald that he desperately needs help. His partner Marcus has absconded to South America and an investigation into the firm’s affairs is inevitable. Apparently, money will not save the day. However, the ineffectual Bob had no knowledge of what his partner was doing. He may only be guilty of negligence or stupidity. Gerald agrees to come to his office later in the week – but not earlier – to see what can be done. The second act becomes more serious as the family awaits Bob’s sentencing. The final act set some months later brings Bob back to the family home in the country. After his time in prison spent thinking, he is ready to have it out with Gerald. Their confrontation turns into dramatic fireworks.

Paton Ashbrook, Robert David Grant and Ari Brand in a scene from “The Lucky One” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Both in the writing and in the directing, the first act is handled like chit-chat. Things get more serious in the second and third acts (performed with only one intermission) but there is remarkably little tension even though Bob’s career and the family honor are at stake. The revelation scene is not as big a surprise as it ought to be as the dour, gloomy, perpetually frowning Ari Brand as Bob has been hinting at his hatred of his younger brother all along. The play is also very vague about some of the major issues. What exactly is the firm’s crime: embezzlement, cooking the books, a Ponzi scheme? Nor are we told how much time one gets in Britain for this example of malfeasance. The extremely ironic final moments are rushed in this production blurring the ending, besides the fact that it is not bought and paid for by what came before.

Director Jesse Marchese has cast the play very strangely. Ari Brand’s Bob is a good deal shorter than his younger brother so that one must continually remind one’s self which is which. As Pamela, Paton Ashbrook also is taller than Bob. Is this a subtle hint that she doesn’t belong with him? Gerald has three friends who are guests in his father’s house. Andrew Fallaize’s Tommy,  an idle fellow mad about golf, and his girlfriend Letty, played by Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, seem so much younger than Gerald that it stretches the imagination that they are his close friends. Gerald’s friend Henry Wentworth, a successful barrister played by Michael Frederic, looks so much older that it also seems rather unbelievable that they are bosom buddies. A delightful Cynthia Harris plays wise, compassionate Great Aunt Harriet in such an astute manner that she highlights all the subtext of her lines, the only actor in the production to do so.

Robert David Grant is a suave and charming Gerald. However, he makes him rather superficial though the play hints that he is not. Brand’s Bob is so much a bitter whiner beset by self-pity that it is impossible to have any sympathy for him. The other characters are so underwritten that the fine actors do their best with them but can’t put more into them than is there. Deanne Lorette and Wynn Harmon are aristocratic as the parents but don’t come across as anything but a nervous woman and a man who has only one topic of conversation, his farm. Frederic is authoritative as the legal friend, though the play doesn’t really make it clear why he wasn’t consulted earlier.

Paton Ashbrook and Robert David Grant in in a scene from “The Lucky One” (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Vicki R. Davis’ setting with its salon surrounded by a split staircase is entirely suitable as a backdrop for all three acts of the play. However, unless you had read the program you would not have known that the middle act was in fact set at a private hotel in London as only the color of the flowers in the urns are changed. While the costumes by Martha Hally are most likely suitable to the 1917 -1922 period, Pamela’s dresses are particularly unflattering. Some of the lighting effects by Christian DeAngelis are as stylized as the set. As usual, Robert-Charles Vallance’s wig and hair design brings the period to life.

While the Mint’s productions of Milne’s Mr. Pim Passes By and The Truth About Blayds revealed that they were witty and clever, The Lucky One, on the other hand, pales by comparison. Jesse Marchese’s languid direction doesn’t help matters. While the excellent cast is not at fault due to the thinness of the material leaving too much unsaid, neither the production nor the play seem to be up to the Mint Theater Company’s usually impeccable standards.

The Lucky One (through June 25, 2017)

Mint Theater Company

The Beckett Theater, Theater Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit http://www.MintTheater.org

Running time: one hour and 50 minutes including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (415 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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