By Sarah Downs
In The Lucky One A. A. Milne, the creator of the much beloved Winnie-the-Pooh series flexes his dramatic muscles in a play about the subtleties of family dynamics and identity. The Farringdons are the picture of British upper class domesticity with its faux serenity and entrenched social traditions. Everyone knows what role to play. Just beneath the surface, however, in a world of unexpressed feelings, danger lurks. Two brothers, Gerald (Robert David Grant) the fair-haired favorite, and Bob (Ari Brand) always just one step behind, have had their characters driven into them by endless repetition of family lore, unchallenged by any expectation of authenticity. The “lucky one” does everything right; he is the success story, the charmer, the charismatic gentlemen; the dark horse has spent his life under the cloud of ‘poor Bob’ – a boy perceived as inadequate and who therefore sees himself as inadequate. Between them stands Pamela (Paton Ashbrook), further complicating their already fraught relationship. When a crisis occurs, her fate, as much as theirs, balances on its resolution.
The use of light comedy to weave a serious narrative is a particularly British manner of storytelling, and it’s not easy to pull off. Director Jesse Marchese has skillfully managed to honor the style without any “tickety-boo” self-consciousness that would belittle the material. Life is tea and golf and changing for dinner, but reality can be held at bay only so long. A pair of juveniles, Thomas Todd (Andrew Fallaize) and Letty Herbert (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) who find everything ‘just ripping’ add a sprightly comic element that balances the increasing drama. Hutchinson-Shaw in particular charms with her enthusiasm and assured schoolgirl femininity.
The cast is very competent and clearly versed in theater, hitting the mark in gesture and tone. Among them Paton Ashbrook stands out. Possessed of a natural elegance and warmth, she engages with her character to the extent that we await her return to stage with almost as much anticipation as the two brothers do. Robert David Grant has an easy gait and pleasing voice, with a certain nervous energy suited to his character. With his blond hair and gold hued country suit under warm light, he is indeed the Golden Boy. Ari Brand as poor, mercurial Bob brings both anger and pathos to his role.
All of the actors manage the combination of drama and light comedy well. The accents are mostly successful, with occasional moments of tongue twisting. Similarly, in rare moments the body language feels a bit modern. What we would do without thinking would have been anathema in 1917 England. One thing does jar, however. The set change between Acts I and II occurs of necessity in full view of the audience, effected by a stage hand in traditional theater blacks. Why not dress her in a servant’s uniform and make it part of the performance?
Costumes by Martha Hally are expertly designed and executed, in muted hues of rose, green and cream in the scenes set on the family estate, with stronger colors reserved for life in London. The set by Vicki R. Davis, in similarly beautiful shades of dove grey and ashes of roses and warmed by the secure embrace of Christian DeAngelis’s harmonious lighting is delicious. A flowing curtain upstage flutters as it hints at a sunlit expanse beyond. Decorative elements from eras past and present blend old and new. A large Palladian staircase dominates the space, making the case for grandeur. It’s a bit large, rising to a height that places the actors at an acute angle to the audience when they stand on the upper level, to the extent we are almost looking up their skirts. The outsize elegance may be the point, however. The stairs anchor the playing space as a structural equivalent of the wordless elephant in the room.
Milne has written with a sensitivity all the more affecting for its touch of autobiography. In questioning this family’s immutable assumptions he reveals the fallout of living with no self-reflection. The danger of holding on to fixed ideas is that it will inevitably make prologue of the past.
The Lucky One, by A.A. Milne, directed by Jesse Marchese.
WITH: Paton Ashbrook, Ari Brand, Andrew Fallaize, Michael Frederic, Robert David Grant, Wynn Harmon, Cynthia Harris, Deanne Lorette, Peggy J. Scott and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw. Sets: Vicki R. Davis; Costumes: Martha Hally; Lights: Christian DeAngelis; Sound Design: Toby Algya, Props: Joshua Yocomm; Dialects and Dramaturgy: Amy Stollerm.
Runs Tuesdays through Sundays through June 25th, as follows: Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday & Sunday 2:00pm, Wednesday 5/17 & 5/31 at 2:00pm No performance 5/30. At the Beckett Theatre at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues). Running time: one hour and 50 minutes, with one intermission.
Tickets available here or at Telecharge. For more information go to www.minttheater.org