Off-Broadway’s 22-year-old Mint Theater Company is built around one of the most simple and rewarding concepts in New York theatergoing: producing “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten,” encompassing different time periods and regions. This is the polar opposite of the model of the standard not-for-profit theater company, which produces new works and/or revivals of either the classics or other plays that the audience will have at least some familiarity with.
Needless to say, some of the plays produced by the Mint have been better than others, but what really matters is that the company plays to a literate audience that is receptive to checking out antiquated plays by once-prominent, now ignored authors such as Rachel Crothers, John Van Druten, J.B. Priestley, N.C. Hunter and George Kelly. No other theater company in New York – and possibly in the entire country – is doing this kind of work.
The Mint has also produced some little-known plays by heavyweight writers such as Tolstoy and Hemingway. At present, it is giving a second life to The Lucky One, a 1917 three-act family drama by English author A.A. Milne, who is best remembered today as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, but who actually had a wide-ranging career that included novels, non-fiction, poetry and plays.
In The Lucky One, Gerald Farrington (Robert David Grant, with a big smile, preppy swagger, pronounced chin and slicked-back hair) is the so-called “Lucky One,” the golden child who can do no wrong and is beloved by all, while his elder brother Bob (Ari Brand, self-conscious and bitter), is “poor old Bob,” the loser and the loner. This arrangement is blindly accepted by everyone except Miss Farrington (Cynthia Harris, reserved and offering Dowager Countess-style tart commentary), the brothers’ great aunt.
Apparently lacking any other options, Bob (who is at least a “decent English gentleman”) took a job in finance in the city that he barely understood or cared for. This allowed his untrustworthy business partner to embezzle and abscond, leaving Bob to take the fall. Bob seeks Gerald’s help, but his popular brother is too consumed with golfing matches and his betrothed Pamela (Paton Ashbrook, with unease).
As it turns out, Pamela is another source of tension for the brothers. It was Bob who originally met Pamela, and then Gerald swept her away, with apparently no regard to Bob’s feelings. After Bob serves a three-month prison sentence, he makes one final visit home with the intention of lashing out at Gerald, who unexpectedly challenges and deconstructs Bob’s grievances in a lawyerly fashion.
The Lucky One, though hardly a masterpiece (the confessional scenes between Bob and Pamela are mushy, and Milne’s attempt to open up Gerald at the end is not believable), is a decent and delicate old-fashioned drama that was worth taking out of the drawer during the year of its centennial. The clean and straightforward production (staged by Jesse Marchese, the Mint’s associate director) works best when exposing the family tensions, especially during the conversational first act, before the plot falls into melodramatic twists and turns.
Martha Hally’s period costumes are suitably posh, but Vicki R. Davis’ set design is puzzling in its use of a tall, symmetrical, two-way staircase (in which mandatory plastic safety railings have been combined with wooden steps). It serves virtually no purpose and looks as if it was left over from some musical. A photograph of two young boys is also unnecessarily projected throughout the entire show. Yes, they’re brothers. We get it.