Playwright and celebrated writer A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh renown), pursues the concept of what exactly it means to have fortune favor you when those “blessings” become a club that family members use at will for their manipulative pleasure. How is praise used? To taunt others and shower fulsome blandishments more for the one praising or in sincerity to encourage and support? In Mint Theater Company’s fine presentation of The Lucky One, we have the opportunity to see into the soul of the one whose blinding achievements dazzle and spur on familial fawning, but only after disastrous sibling rivalry explodes in vengeance and wrecks havoc on an entire family.
Amidst a beautifully appointed stage set and lovely period costumes characteristic of The Mint Theater Company productions, we are introduced to the Farringdon household, a family that appears to be successful and at peace with themselves and each other. Much of this pretense circles around the youngest son, Gerald Farringdon (Robert David Grant), upon whose sterling coattails family and friends are happy to ride. In the play’s initial sequences, with the assistance of Henry Wentworth (Michael Frederic), Thomas Todd (Andrew Fallaize), Letty Herbert (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) and parents Sir James Farringdon (Wynn Harmon) and Lady Farringdon (Deanne Lorette) who all turn in competent performances, we are given a tremendous build up to the family star, Gerald. He is betrothed to Pamela Carey (the lovely, feeling Paton Ashbrook), whom we are led to believe is more than his equal in perfection and grace.
The first act painstakingly outlines the dynamic between the siblings, the older Bob Farringdon (Ari Brand is heart-broken, jealous, and constricted as the love-deprived brother), who works in the city and Gerald (Robert David Grant in an intriguing and constrained portrayal), who works for the foreign office. The play gradually reveals the layers of personality of each, and dark, swirling currents between siblings, as changing events transform their interactions. Their perceptions of each other are further impacted by family pressure, influence and malevolence which both begin to confront by the play’s end.
Initially, portrayed by friends and family with a heavy emphasis on outer external behaviors and accomplishments, we divine that there is nothing Gerald can’t accomplish; he is the charming, shining success who will probably be Ambassador to the U.S. before thirty-five. Of course, Pamela sparkles. The universe pivots around them as they cultivate solid favor with the ease and regularity of sunshine (albeit above England’s cloud cover). The irony in Milne’s cleverly depicted family matrix is that Gerald’s perfection irks. We are grateful when the great-aunt, Miss Farringdon (a terrific performance by Cynthia Harris), is edgy with Gerald, and does not quite embrace the family’s views of his exalted state. This he bares with good will as seems to be his characteristic response to everyone.
Miss Farringdon’s twitting of Gerald, and her down-to-earth nature for an “uppity” Brit is not only appealing, it is a welcome relief. It is a reality we have been looking for. We have had enough of the parents’ and friends’ fawning over Gerald. How dare he be flying so high above us lowly plebeians? He doesn’t even look the part! He should be more stunning, more fantastic, more wonderful. What is going on?
This is a clever turn by the director Jesse Marchese and his apt casting and shepherding of the actors to reveal the layers beneath Milne’s characterizations and the ironies as we battle with our own presumptions about greatness, image, likability, and family perspectives. Indeed, if not for the family reaction to Gerald and his contrast with Bob who is the invisible one, Gerald would fly a normal pitch. It is the contrast that sets Gerald on a heavenly course, a wicked injustice for Bob with whom we have a predisposition to empathize, and to whom we look forward to meeting when he finally arrives. The irony we do not consider is that Gerald’s elevation is not easy for him either, and perhaps it is even more wearing, for he must be the perfect one. Who better than he knows this is not the case.
The darkly brooding personality in the family, cultivated and referred to by the unsettling adjective “poor,” as in “poor Bob,” is apparently filled with dour rain as Bob is introduced to us. He has just cause; Pamela was “his” before she fell under the spell of Gerald’s charm and scintillating shimmer. No wonder he twitches in their presence and appears forlorn and unsettled. He is like an open wound.
Because of everyone’s presumptions about Gerald, and his lack of feeling in taking Pamela from Bob, we are appalled that the family has been so unloving and insupportably cruel. It is apparent they have thrown over Bob, who hasn’t quite turned out as they expected, for the grand Gerald, the younger, brilliant, lucky one who has exceeded all of their expectations. Will someone teach this family how to be nice to one another and not play favorites? We cringe for Bob who is indeed, “poor.”
We are even more distressed when Bob asks for Gerald’s help and Gerald isn’t immediately forthcoming. By that point we applaud Bob’s powerful, though obviously manipulative, deceitful, and perhaps even malicious wooing back of Pamela whom he importunes to be his friend. She promises to support him through the dire circumstances he has “unwittingly” gotten himself into and for which he childishly blames his upbringing, his parents’ favoring his brother over him and his ill placement in an environment which he also blames for causing his weakness of character. Not once does he accept responsibility for his own choices or acknowledge that he is accountable for his own life. Indeed, in the flux and flow, Gerald appears to be sympathetic to Bob, though Bob doesn’t acknowledge it, nor does he show his brother any affection when Gerald extends it.
A.A. Milne’s characters are drawn with insightful subtly. We swallow Bob’s whining excuses and agree with his dishonorable manipulation of Pamela toward his cause that she is his only friend. We realize as the events unfold in the second act how neither brother has been accurately portrayed or understood by their family whose superficiality is noxious and lacks vision.
When the brothers confront one another in the last moments of the play, our eyes are opened. We are abashed that we allowed ourselves to be blinded by the light to miss the profound aspect of how Gerald has been navigating his parents’ expectations with challenges at every turn, and how Bob has perhaps, like much of the world today used excuse, manipulation, and guilt to pursue his own duplicitous desires, not really understanding his own weaknesses because he justifies them at every turn.
Milne’s work and the Mint Theater Company production follow many vital themes which thread through all of our lives: selfishness in family relationships, sibling rivalry, self-blindness, willful ignorance of the complexity of human nature, weakness of character, manipulation, deceit, and more. The play resonates deeply in its characterizations and propels us to look into our own souls, but that requires some thought and introspection.
Upon first consideration, I didn’t realize the first act is carefully constructed to set up the revelations in the second act. I thought it slow, but the fault was my lack of focus on the ironic mystery being presented. Indeed, I was too quickly drawn into the surface reality by A. A. Milne’s superb writing of characters, like the family members, who presume and judge. By the play’s conclusion, the questions Milne raises about our misapprehension of personality and perception of others and especially those close to us come into crashing focus. Milne leaves us with few answers.
Kudos to the Mint Theater Company for taking on this richly complicated work and executing a presentation of which Milne couldn’t help but be proud. The production runs with one intermission until 2 July at The Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. You can find tickets if you CLICK HERE.