Refracted Fairy Tales

Miller's hero, however, is a native-born hometown boy who everybody believes is lucky. And the joke is, he is. This wouldn't make for much of a drama except that he doesn't believe it. Convinced that his good fortune has to turn bad someday, he sees it as a perpetual sword of Damocles hanging over him, with every windfall inching it closer to the fatal drop. A storm, a misunderstanding about his wife and the Austrian Rumpelstiltskin, and an elaborately contrived mix-up about (would you believe) mink ranching add up to the crisis that teaches him, predictably, to enjoy his good luck and leave destiny for others to fret over. Somehow it called up memories of Jules Feiffer's antithetical parable, about the guy who tried to outwit the laundromat machine that always gave his wash back with a sock or two missing. Feiffer was able to do the whole thing in eight panels, of course, and summed up the moral far more cogently ("Stop trifling with the laws of Nature—bring the machine more socks!"). But then, he wasn't under the pressure of constructing a marketable play in the old Broadway style, a tactic Miller sensibly gave up on as he progressed.

And progress he did. The two cogent reasons for seeing The Man Who Had All the Luck, despite its not being much of a play, are the amount of promise it shows and the fun of measuring the vast distance between it and Miller's for-real plays. Even All My Sons, shaped inside Ibsen's 70-year-old cookie cutter, walks taller and more animatedly than this early, cautious attempt. At the same time, The Man Who Had All the Luck can stand with later Miller in its humor; in the easy flow of dialogue in its best scenes; in one or two smartly caught character snapshots (especially a tetchy rich eccentric, played stylishly here by Mason Adams); and in a few big moments where you can hear the themes that will occupy Miller through his whole career sounding out for the first time, with the big, ringing tones of a brand-new carillon. The most noticeable of these is the play's emotional pivot, when the hero's younger brother, a likable lunk who's been raised by their father to think of nothing but a baseball career, finally hears the bitter truth from a major-league scout. For a minute, as father and brothers sit silent and helpless in their pain, a procession of Miller sibling miseries to come seems to wash over the stage: Kellers, Lomans, Eddie Carbone with his immigrant boarders, the embittered brothers of The Price. Nothing these later families go through is mentioned, but the scene seems to carry them all, encoded in its DNA.

Adams, O'Donnell, and Mathis in The Man Who Had All the Luck: Marmon tabernacle
photo: Joan Marcus
Adams, O'Donnell, and Mathis in The Man Who Had All the Luck: Marmon tabernacle


Into the Woods
By James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
Broadhurst Theatre
235 West 44th Street

The Man Who Had All the Luck
By Arthur Miller
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street

It's also the point where Scott Ellis's production is most effective. Otherwise, the staging is more smooth than distinctive, the acting more reasonable role-filling than character creation. The exceptions to the latter clause are Adams, as aforesaid, and Sam Robards as the handily appearing Austrian. Chris O'Donnell, in the title role, is the nominal star, a pleasantly competent young actor with a low-voltage stage presence. Samantha Mathis, as his wife, is yet another of those Hollywood girls with no personality and a Minnie Mouse voice. I wish the Roundabout were a movie company—then, presumably, it would only hire trained stage actors. Meantime, the real star of the show is an authentic 1930s Marmon roadster—the most beautiful automobile I've ever seen on any stage. It's also the only cast member that doesn't seem dwarfed by Allan Moyer's vast, barren set, which looks more like an airplane hangar than like any space called for in the script. He shouldn't take the name of the theater so deeply to heart.

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