In its continuing mission to revive worthy, forgotten plays in period-accurate or at least period-suggestive productions, the Mint Theater Company is for the third time revisiting the theatrical works of a very un-forgotten writer. Though his ongoing fame today rests almost entirely on his writing for children, especially the world of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne (1882-1956) was a literary polymath who had a successful career on the London and Broadway stages in the 1920s. Yet how many are aware of that today? Fortunately, we have the Mint to remind us, with the first New York revival of Milne’s The Lucky One.
Despite some good reviews, The Lucky One ran for only 40 performances on Broadway in 1922. In Great White Way terms, it wasn’t one of Milne’s smashes. But as the Mint’s new production shows, this light-footed comedy of character is also a penetrating psychological drama that can stand on its own two feet nearly a century on.
Bob Farringdon (Ari Brand), the elder son in a clan of landed gentry, has faded in his family’s esteem since his younger brother Gerald (Robert David Grant) emerged as the golden child. Always upbeat and almost preternaturally charming, Gerald is moving up in a prestigious career with the Foreign Service. Meanwhile father Sir James (Wynn Harmon) has shunted “poor old Bob” off to the relatively unglamorous world of London finance, a career for which Bob has neither knack nor liking. The brothers’ unequal dynamic has played out in romance, too, as Gerald has charmed Bob’s beloved friend Pamela (Paton Ashbrook) into becoming Gerald’s, not Bob’s, fiancée.
The touchstone of the tale is a matter not of love, but of work. Bob’s crooked partner has left the irresponsible but otherwise innocent Bob in a legal jam. At a family gathering, a visibly distraught Bob, tight-lipped with everyone else, asks his brother to assist him in straightening things out. Gerald hems and haws. The upshot: Whether for lack of brotherly assistance or not, Bob is sent to prison for three months.
But “poor old Bob” has an ally and friend in Pamela. He’s still in love with her, and she nurses a soft spot, at least, for him. And in the end it is love, after all, that digs out the deeper natures of both brothers via a stunning and conclusive confrontation. The play turns out to have played us expertly, building and then busting simplistic misconceptions about both brothers while rocking along with comedy and a lingering post-Edwardian gentility (cf. Downton Abbey),
The strong performances supporting Brand’s and Grant’s fine-tuned efforts include respectively stiff-necked and sweet comedy from Andrew Fallaize and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw as Gerald’s friends, world-weary humor from Cynthia Harris as his sharp-tongued but benevolent great-aunt, and admirable empathic strength from Ashbrook’s Pamela.
The single straightforward set transforms easily from the Farringdon country estate to an elegant London hotel. The costumes are spot-on, period popular music evokes the era with charming obviousness, and understated lighting limns the changing moods. Jesse Marchese directs with respectful finesse, drawing lively performances that balance realism and theatricality just as the script seems to demand.
This production serves well as both an introduction to Milne the playwright and a welcome window on a fascinating period in theater history. An interesting dual character study, it’s thoroughly well-mounted and just plain fun to boot.
The Lucky One runs through June 25 at the Beckett Theatre at Theater Row. Tickets are available at Telecharge.