Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lucky One

In A.A. Milne's The Lucky One, currently playing at The Mint, we hear it again and again: "Poor old Bob." "Poor old Bob." "Poor old Bob."

Bob's problem is simple: for years he has been withering away in the shadow of his younger brother, the golden boy Gerald. Bob is stuck in a finance job that he hates and doesn't understand; Gerald is at the beginning of a great career with the foreign office. Bob is not a jock; Gerald is the star player on the local cricket team. Bob is lonely; Gerald is engaged to the amazing Pamela. To many of their friends and relatives, Gerald can do no wrong and Bob can do no right. Even worse, they expect Bob to accept his second-class status cheerfully. And even worse than that, Bob and Gerald's parents are so partial to Gerald that they are totally blind to Bob's good points; whether they even really love him is in doubt.

Paton Ashbrook, Ari Brand
Photo: Richard Termine
It is easy to see how this situation developed. Going back to their childhoods, Gerald's successes were nourished, and they grew. Bob's insecurities and weaknesses were nourished, and they also grew. And, honestly, Bob is kinda whiny and annoying. (I kept thinking of the wonderful line in the movie Broadcast News when Albert Brooks says, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?")

Milne has some insightful and surprising things to say about this not-uncommon family dynamic/dramatic set up. Unfortunately, he doesn't get around to saying them until the third act. Until then, the play slogs along, relying too much on embarrassing "comic relief" and predictable drama.

And yet, The Lucky One is worth seeing. That third act, which focuses on a showdown between Bob and Gerald, springs to life. The show becomes thoughtful, thought-provoking, and compelling.

[spoilers below]
The strengths of the third act are multiple. First of all, the extended conversation between Bob and Gerald is full of genuine conflict, and Milne gives them time to say what they have to say. Second, some of what they have to say is unexpected. Gerald bursts out of his assigned role, and we learn that he hates his reputation--it's a golden cage, but a cage nonetheless. He also points out to Bob that while everyone else has always compared them, he never has. In fact, Gerald feels strongly how their upbringing has separated and hurt them. It takes a while for Bob to understand Gerald, and you can really feel how it hurts his head to see the world from a new point of view. It's the sort of real conversation that many of us would love to have with family members. It is also the sort of conversation that strongly benefits from one person having written both sides of it, but that's okay; Milne's writing is so thoughtful here that any weaknesses are unimportant.

[end of spoilers]
Unfortunately, the Mint production doesn't give us The Lucky One at its best. The night I saw it, even the decent jokes didn't get laughs, and the acting (with the exception of the wonderful Cynthia Harris) was flat. Robert David Grant (Gerald) and Ari Brand (Bob) were barely interesting in the first two acts, but they came across as different actors in Act III, displaying a complexity totally lacking earlier. It almost seemed that director Jesse Marchese asked them to eliminate all subtext and subtlety until late in the play.

The design elements don't help much. The set is striking but doesn't actually work as the two locations. The costumes are sometimes attractive in and of themselves but don't necessarily flatter the wearers. And the wigs are awful. (The Mint often has wonderful sets and costumes that add an impressive sense of time and place, but the wigs nearly always detract from the performances. Are they necessary?)

The Lucky One would benefit tremendously if Milne could come back from the dead and rewrite it as a trim, streamlined 90-minute modern play. Alas, that won't happen, and it's too bad. There's a really good play in there.

Wendy Caster
(4th row; press ticket)

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