Author of the beloved Winnie the Pooh Books, Alan Alexander Milne also wrote verse, essays and two dozen plays. The Lucky One had little success on Broadway in 1922, but retitled Let’s All Talk About Gerald, fared better on The West End six years later. Skill in depicting societal expectations, relationships, and moral quandaries later embodied by forest creatures is here showcased with insight.
Michael Frederic, Wynn Harmon, Robert David Grant, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, Andrew Fallaize, Cynthia Harris
This weekend’s house party at Sir James Farringdon’s country estate consists of favored son Gerald (Robert David Grant) and his newly minted, family-loved fiancé, Pamela (Paton Ashbrook), friends Henry Wentworth, a lawyer (Michael Frederic), public school mate Thomas Todd (Andrew Fallaize) and Todd’s ever chipper girlfriend Letty Herbert (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw). Hosting the group’s endless golf before a local tournament are stolid, conservative Sir James (Wynn Harmon), his status conscious wife, Lady Farringdon (Deanne Lorette) and Sir James’s patrician aunt (Cynthia Harris): “I don’t know anything about golf, but I think doing anything in-one is marvelous!”
Gerald Farringdon, who’s a rising star at the foreign office, excels at simply everything; encouraged and celebrated throughout a charmed life. His older brother, universally referred to as “poor old Bob (Ari Brand), runs a perpetual second place. “Whatever the elder one does, the younger one does a jolly sight better.” An unhappy banker, Bob has a chip on his shoulder the size of Trafalgar Square.
Robert David Grant and Ari Brand
“What’s the family creed? I believe in Gerald. I believe in Gerald the Brother. I believe in Gerald the Son. I believe in Gerald the Nephew. I believe in Gerald the Friend, the Lover, Gerald the Holy Marvel.” Bob
The pastoral weekend is interrupted by Bob’s frenzied appearance. Taking Gerald aside, he admits that being “helpless with figures” has allowed his partner to embezzle funds and flee. The young man is sure of prosecution and scared out of his wits. In the predictable manner of someone who’s never known difficulty, Gerald assures him that “people don’t get thrown into prison if they’re innocent.” Unfortunately, he can’t make it to town to help his brother for 4-5 days because of the golf tournament. Not to worry.
Robert David Grant and Paton Ashbrook; Paton Ashbrook and Ari Brand
Bob is arrested, convicted and sentenced. Everyone seems more concerned about reputations than the incipient convict. Before he goes to prison, we learn that Pamela was his friend, “my only friend,” when introduced to, then courted by Gerald. Clearly jealous and enamored, he begs her not to marry until he’s released so that he doesn’t have to return to Gerald’s wife. She agrees to wait. Two month pass. And then…
There you have it. Except nothing’s as cut and dry as it seems. Brakes screech, people rethink, things change.
In addition to spot-on golf repartee, wonderful pieces of dialogue include Gerald’s cheery, obtuse suggestions for Bob’s productively occupying himself in prison – learning French or to stand on his head, for example, and the brothers’ eventual confrontation. The latter contains the lucky one’s unexpected and illuminating rebuttal to Bob’s grievances.
Most secondary characters, though credible, act as wallpaper. Thomas Todd and Letty Herbert are sheer, drawing room clichés. (Nonetheless well manifest by Andrew Fallaize and Mia-Hutchinson-Shaw.) Only the family Aunt, here a thoughtful, patrician Cynthia Harris, has her own distinct character. Still the piece holds one’s attention, not the least because of actor Robert David Grant’s vivid performance.
Robert David Grant and Cynthia Harris
As Gerald, Robert David Grant conjures unflagging ego and blithe insensitivity. He vibrates with energy and good will. When the character’s internal ballast is shaken, difficulty in processing is evident. Testimony to suffering then arrives with incredulous strain but no real explosion. A believable portrait.
Ari Brand seems almost as nervous as Bob, an unfortunate observation. The actor plays his character too one-note and doesn’t come into his own until a final scene. With glimpses of skill, one hopes this will iron itself out.
Paton Ashbrook lacks grounding, as if she hasn’t decided what Pamela is thinking and feeling. Both the character’s lack of sureness about Gerald and decisions that subsequently arise from it read as surface display. Only when Ashbrook is dealing with friends and family does she come across as whole.
Pamela Ashbrook and Robert David Grant
Director Jesse Marchese uses her stage with aesthetic and dramatic skill. Pacing is good. It would have served the piece to find some personal definition in minor characters.
Vicki R. Davis offers a minimal, yet evocative set build around a fabulous, double stairway. Young photos of the boys – perhaps of Milne and his brother – are a redolent touch.
Martha Hally’s pale Costumes are flattering and accurate to class and period. Love the golf clothes. Wigs and Hair by Robert-Charles Vallance are enviably attractive.
Also featuring an excellent Peggy J. Scott as Mason, the boys’ old nurse.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Robert David Grant and Ari Brand
The Lucky One by A. A. Milne
Directed by Jesse Marchese
Mint Theater Company
410 West 42nd Street
Through June 25, 2017
This unlikely musical commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the legendary actor Edwin Booth’s return to the stage (New York’s Wintergarden Theater) and the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare on whose work the performer and his family founded their reputations.
The British/American Booths consisted of father, Junius Brutus Booth who abandoned his wife in England and came to America with Mary Ann Holmes, fathering three bastard sons: Junius Brutus Booth Jr. (of lesser reputation), John Wilkes Booth who had a fairly successful career before assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, and Edwin Booth, the foremost American Shakespearean actor of his day and founder New York’s Player’s Club. Like the Barrymores, the Booths were a prominent theatrical family with serious alcohol problems.
Dana Watkins and Paul DeBoy
After an opening song reminiscent of Sweeney Todd we meet Edwin Booth (Dana Watkins) on the night he returns to the stage (in Hamlet) after the assassination of President Lincoln by his brother John. “Is that why you chose Hamlet, because our country lost a father?” asks his earnest, young bodyguard Rob (Ben Mayne). Were it not for needing to support his mother (Deanne Lorette) and daughter, the actor would not be risking his life. A surging crowd outside might easily contain someone vengeful.
Dana Watkins and Patricia Noonan
Edwin is sober for the first time in years. He’s lived through the demise of his alcoholic father Junius (Paul DeBoy) and tender wife Mollie (Patricia Noonan), both of whose untimely deaths have been blamed on his neglect, implied guilt about exploiting sibling Junius Jr. (Adam Bashian), and the infamy of being related to a murderer. Having finally stopped drinking , he fearfully hopes against hope for a kind of redemption in tonight’s performance. Assuming he survives it.
The protagonist floats fairly smoothly from present to past, from narrative to (a few too many) bits of Shakespeare plays, surrounded by ghosts of his relatives. We observe fraught family relationships and professional history. John, the most volatile brother, is portrayed as his father’s favorite. When Edwin takes his turn accompanying Junius on tour (to regulate drunken behavior as best as possible), his father keeps calling him Johnny. Crucial connection is nonetheless established. One might conjecture Edwin’s drinking started with the death of his role model.
Todd Lawson and Dana Watkins
The choice not to make John Wilkes Booth the nucleus of the piece is inspired. Illuminating and entertaining, Edwin delivers a real feeling for life tethered to the theater as well as a family portrait. (One assumes certain implied relationships are conjecture.) It also has a whizz-bang ending. But, beginning with its length, there are issues.
Second, and easy to correct, there’s currently no information in the program about each character. My companions and I were all lost as one after another person came onto the scene. Was “Johnny” John Wilkes Booth or another actor In Hamlet? Which player was the third brother? Who was Mollie? Were Mary and Junius not married? Who was dead? Though all this becomes clear, it’s confusing at first. An audience shouldn’t have to work so hard. (The surprise ending can be hidden.)
Adam Bashian, Dana Watkins, Todd Lawson
Paul DeBoy is an excellent Junius. The actor has style and brio, plays drunk with finesse, confidence and exhaustion with prowess, and listens skillfully. DeBoy moves with the kind of on-and-off stage prideful awareness we imagine Booth pere to possess. His timing is impeccable.
Both Deanne Lorette (Mary Ann-mother) and Patricia Noonan (Edwin’s wife, Mollie) have fine voices with Noonan’s lovely contralto standing out for clarity and enunciation. Both actresses imbue their characters with warmth and naturalness. Noonan also slips in and out of Shakespeare with aptitude and emerges particularly empathetic.
Todd Lawson’s multidimensional characterization credibly depicts John Wilkes Booth as hot tempered, frustrated, and out for glory. The piece implies his pro-Confederate politics had more to do with the latter than with confirmed beliefs. Lawson appealingly flares and moves as if owning the stage.
Ben Mayne and Dana Watkins
As Rob, Ben Mayne manages to bring sincerity to a small part, especially during scenes in Edwin’s dressing room. Adam Bashian does a yeoman like job as Junius Jr.
Dana Watkins is alas, though very attractive, the weak link here. Watkins’s low notes are lost. He mumbles too often, is rather stiff, and never seems, like the other Booths, to commandeer a room. Nor do we believe either romantic love or agony of repentance.
The strongest creative contribution comes from Librettist (and Lyricist) Eric Swanson. There are insightful, character specific conversations about aspects of a life treading the boards, ego, jealousy, intimacy, and motivation. Swanson’s tone is literate, and mercifully lacking in contemporary vernacular. He clearly understands ‘the life.’ Several lyrics, including one about the contents of Junius’s prized make-up case, deftly relate to Shakespearean roles. Songs like “Oh What a Life!” and “Tom Fool” paint vivid theatrical pictures. Ballads are somewhat less distinctive as are derivative opening and closing company numbers. Several songs, though fine unto themselves, unnecessarily repeat information and emotion imparted earlier.
Marianna Rosett’s Music suits the period, evokes mood, and carries each lyric but sometimes lacks individuality. Using what seems to be the same tango for two very different numbers is a questionable decision.
Director Christopher Scott gracefully engineers flow on and off the stage-upon-the-stage, and episodically through past and present. Brief choreography is welcome as is an unexpected sword fight (Fight Director-Ron Piretti). Chad McCarver’s minimal Set is used optimally, in fact, with some elegance. Most Booths command the stage with presence and sweep. (You might have John take his hand out of his pocket during dramatic scenes). Women are immensely sympathetic.
Early on, in the snippet of a scene from Lear, male actors play Lear’s daughters while the women present play men. One assumes this is because there are only two women. Nonetheless, it’s disconcerting.
David Zyla’s Costume Design is artful and appropriate. Variation in men’s attire is particularly adroit.
Sound Design is unfortunately an issue here. There are no mikes and only some of these thespians consistently project. Sections of dialogue and song are periodically lost.
By Unknown – The Life and Times of Joseph Haworth – The Booth brothers
A production of Julius Caesar mounted before the tragedy, starring all three of the Booth brothers, funded the statue of William Shakespeare that still stands in Central Park just south of the Promenade.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Paul DeBoy, Patricia Noonan, Adam Bashian, Ben Mayne, Deanne Lorette,
Great Circle Productions presents
Edwin-The Story of Edwin Booth
Book & Lyrics- Eric Swanson
Directed by Christopher Scott
Piano/Conductor- Evan Alparone
Bass-Dara Bloom; Violin/Violas- Ljova Zhurbin
Theatre at St. Clements
423 West 46th Street
Through September 18, 2016