In 1922, Alan Alexander (A. A.) Milne’s The Lucky One was originally produced in New York. Milne is best known for his children stories about a good-natured teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and his friendship with a boy, Christopher Robin (named after Milne's son). Before the extraordinary success of Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne had published three novels and 18 plays. Two of them, Mr. Pim Passes By and The Truth About Blayds, the Mint Theater Company has previously resurrected.
The Lucky One centers around two squabbling brothers born into the gentry, Bob and Gerald, and their turbulent relationship. In the beginning, the annoyingly charismatic Gerald (Robert David Grant) seems to have it all, but when his older brother, Bob (Ari Brand), shows up, his luck starts to change. Bob is dealing with his own legal problems that could send him to prison, and he appears to have the most to lose among the cast. Brand manages to effectively convey the shame and dismay that Bob faces.
When Bob comes to Gerald for support, their history of friction quickly hits a tipping point, and they dive into a heated dispute. Bob lashes out at Gerald and says, “There may be brothers who don't mind that sort of thing, but not when you're born jealous as I was. Do you think father or mother cares a damn what happens to me? They're upset, of course, and they feel the disgrace for themselves, but the beloved Gerald is all right, and that's all that really matters.”
In this production, set designer Vicki R. Davis fills the stage with an imposing double staircase and an elegant sofa with two plush chairs. The space on the stage is limited for the performers to freely roam around because of the size of the staircase. The actors also spend a considerable amount of time going up and down the stairs. The stage initially resembles a luxury hotel lobby, which it becomes in a later scene, but initially it serves as a hall in the country home of Sir James Farringdon (Wynn Harmon), the father of Gerald and Bob, on a Saturday in June.
As the play opens, Gerald interrupts his two friends, Henry Wentworth (Michael Frederic) and family friend Thomas Todd (Andrew Fallaize)—who were just gossiping about him and Bob. Their friendships feel skin-deep and could only be based on the fact that they are from the same social class. The three men talk about their relationships with women when Gerald’s wise Aunt Tabitha (Cynthia Harris) suddenly makes her entrance from the top of the stairs.
Harris’s presence and rhythm are so natural and intoxicating that she gradually draws the audience in like a slow-moving vortex. Her nonverbal communication speaks volumes, and her subtle facial expressions capture the essence of every scene. She has an exceptional ability, and the instincts, to listen and react to what is taking place on stage. It is a true delight to watch an accomplished actress perform with such ease and intentionality.
Harris’s performance also stands out so much because Grant, as Gerald, appears to be more focused on staying on track and delivering his lines than being in the moment with her. Grant’s movements and body language feel forced and mechanical. Though Grant’s character is like a glass house, the audience wants to know that a real person with a beating heart actually lives inside. The other challenge with Gerald is for Grant to bring out the redeeming qualities in his character so that the audience can relate to him and be vested in his journey throughout the entire three acts.
Like many of the characters in this play, Grant’s character lacks depth and strong, distinct qualities, or even a compelling backstory, to set them apart from one another—even though the division between the quarreling brothers affects the love interest as well. (Gerald’s betrothed, Pamela Carey (Paton Ashbrook), secretly adored by Bob, is caught between them.) They all sort of look the same and sound the same, like a bland meal. The costumes by Martha Hally match this time period perfectly, but the limited range in colors adds to the dullness. Director Jesse Marchese might have spiced things up with bolder choices for the cast and visuals.
Other than The Lucky One being a nice antique to dust off for Milne fans, it remains unclear why the Mint Theater Company is producing this play at this time and what it really has to offer our current society. It also feels edited down, but it is actually just surprisingly short for a three-act play from this era. Besides veteran Harris, the overall performances are lukewarm, and the dialogue is not thought-provoking enough to write home about. There are other plays from the 1920s, like Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page, that have more relevance today than The Lucky One.
A.A. Milne’s The Lucky One runs through June 25 at the Beckett Theatre at Theater Row (410 West 42nd St. between Dyer Ave. and Ninth Ave.) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Matinee performances are at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, May 31. There are no performances Tuesday, May 30. Tickets cost $65. To purchase tickets, call Telecharge (800) 432-7250 or visit theatrerow.org.