The Lucky One
May 18, 2017
One significant facet of the invaluable service that the Mint Theater Company provides in reviving little-known plays from decades past is that the company has, on several occasions, given us a look at obscurities by writers who achieved great fame with other works. Recently, we’ve seen fine Mint productions of the wonderful rarity London Wall by John Van Druten, best known for his stage adaptations I Remember Mama and I Am a Camera; and the less-than-wonderful but still interesting Fashions for Men by Ferenc Molnár, the Hungarian dramatist and novelist known mostly for his plays Liliom (the source material for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel) and The Guardsman.
Now, the Mint is presenting The Lucky One by A.A. Milne, whose place in cultural history rests almost entirely on his Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The play was written in 1917, but it failed to find a producer in London and didn’t receive its premiere until 1922, when it was produced on Broadway by the Theatre Guild. Some lighter scenes notwithstanding, it’s a serious, incisive piece that could not be further in tone or subject matter from the gentle, childlike whimsy of Milne’s tales of Pooh and the goings-on in the Hundred Acre Wood.
As has been the case with a number of previous Mint productions, The Lucky One turns out to be so good a play that it’s hard to understand why it’s so rarely revived and isn’t considered at least a minor classic. The central characters are two siblings: Gerald Farringdon and his elder brother, Bob. The former is an uncommonly attractive, ingratiating fellow who seems to have earned the great respect and affection of everyone with whom he has ever come in contact. The latter, if not quite a black sheep, does appear to exist in the large shadow cast by his brother’s charm and achievements. Gerald, played by Robert David Grant for the Mint, works in the Foreign Office. Bob, played by Ari Brand, has a seat on the stock exchange, which may not sound bad—but, as the play opens, we learn that he’s facing a prison sentence for a financial scandal centering around his business partner.
Just in case you haven’t already figured this out, Gerald is to all outward appearances “the lucky one” of the title. In the Mint production, he seems the golden boy compared to his brother even in terms of physicality: Grant is a couple of inches taller and blonder than Brand, and is more classically handsome in a wonderfully old-fashioned way. Although each of these two very talented actors sometimes makes what might be considered odd choices in terms of facial expressions, word emphasis, etc., both are so perfectly cast to type for the roles, and so impressive in their understanding of the characters and the communication of their inner lives, that their performances are highly commendable overall.
The rest of the casting could hardly be improved upon. Wynn Harmon and Deanne Lorette are perfect as the brothers’ parents, Cynthia Harris more than perfect as their great aunt. Michael Frederic, Andrew Fallaize, and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw are spot-on as various friends, and so is Peggy J. Scott as Gerald’s former nurse. But if I had to name only one actor here who deserves every possible award nomination for which she’s eligible, that would be the sublime Paton Ashbrook in the role of Pamela Carey, who is Gerald’s betrothed at the start of the action but not necessarily at the end of it. (I can say no more. . . .) It’s an extroardinarily beautiful, sensitive, touching performance.
In terms of the employment of meticulous accents in British plays, this show represents a happy return to form for the Mint after the company’s surprising regression with its otherwise excellent production of Miles Malleson’s Yours Unfaithfully earlier this year. Every last member of the cast of The Lucky One sounds credibly born and bred in old Blighty, down to nailing the somewhat tricky Brit pronunciations of such words as “rooms,” “nephew,” and “stupid.” Cheers to all and to dialect coach/dramaturg Amy Stoller for their stellar work in this area.
Vicki R. Davis’s two-level unit set, with curving staircases at opposite sides of the stage, has a nice, vaguely Art Deco feel to it. Martha Hally’s costumes are among the best work she has ever done for the Mint. Christian DeAngelis’s lighting is exemplary, and the wigs by Robert-Charles Vallance are gorgeous. Director Jesse Marchese presides over all of the above with the utmost skill.
Call it coincidence or synchronicity or whatever, but it’s fascinating that the Mint’s stellar presentation of this little-known work by A.A. Milne overlapped for a month with the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price, in that both plays deal with an often bitter love-hate relationship between two brothers. Though these works are dissimilar in many other respects, the Victor/Walter dynamic in the Miller play and the Gerald/Bob sibling rivalry in the Milne bear some striking similarities. There’s no reason to believe this happenstance was planned, and I for one think it’s all the neater for that reason.
In 2015, the Mint lost its longtime home in a somewhat problematic performance space on an upper floor of a building on West 43rd Street. For many theater companies in these troubled times for the arts in America, such a displacement might have been a death knell, but the Mint has survived and now does its stuff at the better equipped, more accommodating Beckett Theatre within the Theatre Row complex. This must be rated as one of the happiest theatrical occurrences of recent years, because to lose this company would have been a tragedy. Long may it continue to flourish.