Guest Reviewer: Michael T. Mooney,
As the curtain goes up on LUCKY ME, Sara Fine maneuvers through her darkened apartment on crutches after returning from the hospital. We quickly learn that she fell off the roof in her bathrobe while fixing a leak during a rainstorm. When her helpful neighbor Tom asks why the lights don't work he is told that all the bulbs have burned out. “It's always happening,” Sara says unfazed. This is immediately followed by the comic sight of a kitchen cupboard filled to the top with boxes of light bulbs. A bit later, a hockey puck comes zooming through a glass window knocking over a nearby lamp. “It's always happening,” Sara says unfazed. This is immediately followed by the comic sight of a cabinet overflowing with baseballs, tennis balls, and hockey pucks. Surely we are in for a hilarious dark comic farce about those who live under Murphy's Law. Right? Well... not exactly.
LUCKY ME soon hones in on another tact – the budding romantic attraction between stoic Sara and timid Tom, a recent transplant from Alaska working for the TSA in airport security. The only monkey wrench in the ointment of this near-fatal attraction is Sara's live-in father, Leo. Like most of the burdensome things in her life, Sara takes her cantankerous father in her stride. Leo may or may not be blind, and may or may not be in the throes of Alzheimer's, but there's no doubt that he dislikes Tom.
We are told that only one out of every three things Leo says is true. Which one no one is quite sure, including us. Leo's character vagaries combined with Sara's reluctance to discuss her past create a bit of a challenge for the audience, who aren't sure just what is going on (or why) until it is far too late to care. With the help of deliberately belligerent Leo, the mood escalates from quirky to somber rather quickly.
Director SuzAnne Barabas (also NJ Rep's Artistic Director) struggles with the scatter-shot script. The pacing is often far too slow for farce and the play lacks the chemistry necessary for romance. The four performers struggle mightily with the material but Michael Irvin Pollard fares best as Tom. His sad sack demeanor and nervous laugh are just right for a man inescapably caught in the middle of a weird storm. If the audience roots for Tom, it is because Sara is so determinedly discreet.
Wendy Peace gives a very matter-of-fact performance where a bit more comic nuance might help. But Peace stays the course and salvages some bit of character clarity in Sara's final scenes. Dan Grimaldi's Leo is an abrasive old codger with a mean-streak who often unbalances the already out-of-kilter play with cruel and confusing outbursts. Finally, Mark Light-Orr does a second act turn as Yuri, the building's Russian super. He's mainly there to provide some much-needed back story (as they say in Hollywood), although by the time he arrives things have gone from vague to vaguer.
As usual, NJ Rep lavishes LUCKY ME with an excellent physical production. The set is the very picture of a downmarket garden apartment (#13, of course), complete with spill-proof plastic coverings on the miss-matched furniture. There's an amusing sound plot (cue toilet flush) and an array of tricky effects (including some live goldfish) to bring Sara's misfortunes to the stage. All are impressively executed. I wish I could say the same about the play but this is clearly a premiere in need of a second draft. Maybe next time will be lucky?
Cast photo by SuzAnne Barabas
Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney August 9, 2014 at 3:00pm