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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Lucky Me: A Slight New Comedy With Untapped Potential
New Jersey Repertory Company


Michael Irvin Pollard, Wendy Peace and Dan Grimaldi
Sara Fine is Queen of the Jinxed. The lightbulbs which she installs in her apartment have little more life expectancy than a lightning bug. Her cat has been run over, and her fish bowl is merely a watery graveyard for her pet fish. Her roof springs leaks randomly and repeatedly. Now, on New Year's Eve, she has fallen off her roof ("she always falls off the roof") while attempting to plug a leak, breaking her metatarsal in the process. Playwright Robert Caisley regales us with these misfortunes within the opening minutes of his new comedy Lucky Me. And, believe me, Caisley has yet only barely begun to relate Sara's litany of woe.

As Lucky Me begins, Sara arrives back at her apartment, aided by TSA airport officer Tom, a good Samaritan passerby who had rescued the fallen Sara and brought her to the hospital for treatment. He is "greeted" in comically rude fashion by Sara's widowed and weird father, Leo. Over the next six months (two acts and two hours of stage time), Leo, who has already chased away his 40ish widowed daughter's last suitor, will go to great lengths to destroy the affection that will blossom between Sara and Tom. As drawn and employed by the playwright, Leo is this play's blessing and its bane.

Leo is quite a burden for Sara. Demanding, overbearing, intrusive and blind (or pretending to be so), Leo is a laugh machine for Caisley. In one way or another, every line which he speaks is off kilter. His reasoning is skewered, his words are inappropriate, and his attitude is hostile. When Leo repeatedly addresses Tom by the name Brad, Tom points out that "you remember that I work for the TSA" to which Leo responds, "what is that? The chicken market?". When asked for a pen, Leo responds, "We don't have pens. They run out of ink." Such lines are delivered by Dan Grimaldi aggressively and disdainfully in deadpan fashion with a New York accent to maximum effect, and generate considerable laughter. However, the problem with Tom is the lack of integration of his contrasting personas into a believable human being. Leo is often a droll, mischievous kidder. At times, Leo is confused, frightened and delusional. Crucially, in the second act, Leo is shown to be a selfish, destructive son of a bitch. After which, Leo is droll and thoughtful, and is unaccountably accepted as such by Sara and Tom.

As the relationships among Sara, Tom and Leo barely alter throughout much of the first act, all that we are left to feed on is that ever growing litany of Sara's misfortunes along with Leo's mishagas (craziness). Thus, as the act meanders along these matters make for an increasingly less tasty, insubstantial meal.

Caisley does not get down to business until the second act when he finally reveals his hand. And a potentially winning hand it is. For Caisley convincingly and delightfully provides a poignant analysis of the experiences that have led Sara to become fate's victim. This sparklingly written aspect of Lucky Me provides moments of satisfying and engrossing quality theatre.

Director SuzAnne Barabas has elicited delightful performances from her exceptionally fine cast. Neither Barabas nor Dan Grimaldi can be faulted for the inconsistent, unresolved nature of Leo. Anything short of corralling Caisley for an extensive rewrite would be fruitless.

Michael Irvin Pollard is a total delight in the role of Tom. He embodies Tom's sweet goodness with incredibly natural ease. Wendy Peace wins our hearts, fully conveying Sara's quirky and troubled poor soul. Mark Light-Orr employs a sort of Russian accent to winning effect as Sara's landlord, Yuri.

As it now stands, Lucky Me is providing a pleasant night of comedy for susceptible audiences. However, Lucky Me seems worthy of the time and effort that are needed for it to become a superior romantic comedy-drama. Concomitantly, playwright Robert Caisley appears to be up to the task.

Lucky Me continues performances (Evenings: Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturday 3 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through August 31, 2014, at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740; box office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.

Lucky Me by Robert Caisley; directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Cast
Tom………………….Michael Irvin Pollard
Sara Fine………………….....Wendy Peace
Leo Fine……………………..Dan Grimaldi
Yuri……………………..Michael Light-Orr


Photo: Courtesy of New Jersey Repertory Company


- Bob Rendell



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