Sara Fine has had a hard go of things. The light bulbs in her Denver apartment are always blowing out. The kid down the street keeps slapping hockey pucks through her kitchen window. She doesn’t name her pets for fear of emotional attachment, since they always run away or die. Her roof leaks whenever it rains, and it always seems to be raining.
This is the potentially farcical set-up to Robert Caisley’s “Lucky Me,” a delicate and unexpectedly subtle story of loss, trust and personal history disguised as a broad character comedy. The play breezes by, though that doesn’t mean it’s always a breeze: There’s a lot of emotional turmoil bubbling beneath the surface, but Caisley doesn’t show his hand right away. It’s a slow burner, but it packs a wallop.
The show, directed for the Modern Theater Spokane by Wes Deitrick, opens in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. Sara (Emily Jones) has fallen off her roof in the middle of a winter storm, fracturing her fifth metatarsal, and her new neighbor Tom (Brandon Montang) has just driven her home from the hospital. The signs of Sara’s bad luck are immediately apparent: The furniture is draped in plastic wrap because glasses are always toppling over, and buckets to catch dripping water are placed strategically about the place.
There’s another omen of misfortune haunting the apartment: Sara’s father Leo (Rick Boal), who has moved in unceremoniously and acts as master of the house. Leo has lost his sight and his sense of memory is on its way out, and he’s instantly wary of Tom, whom he keeps calling Brad. As “Lucky Me” unfolds, Tom becomes a fixture around the Fine household, despite Sara’s hesitation about getting close to anyone.
Sara’s reluctance is a consequence of her bad luck, but this is more than a mere string of unfortunate occurrences. Sara appears to be cursed, and that curse is contagious. Her Ukrainian landlord Yuri (Sean Curran) cautions Tom about possibly dating Sara: He went out for coffee with her one time and has been plagued by bad luck ever since – he wears a neck brace in anticipation of a horrible accident. But Tom can’t shake his feelings about Sara, even as Leo continues to wedge himself between them.
I realize now that the basic plot synopsis of “Lucky Me” makes the show sound like an “Odd Couple”-esque screwball comedy, and that’s only partly accurate. The show makes a number of hairpin turns, maneuvering adeptly between comedy and drama and back again: Laugh lines punctuate scenes of emotional vulnerability; certain comic moments (especially in the show’s more dramatic second act) are steeped in sadness and desperation. It’s a tricky tightrope walk, and the play does it without a safety net.
Caisley’s script is defined by its wry, rat-a-tat dialogue – think David Mamet by way of Neil Simon – and the actors are often stepping over each other’s lines, which prevents the banter from ever feeling precious or overwritten. There are no squeaky wheels in Deitrick’s small cast, and they tear into this dialogue, full of one-liners and back-and-forth repartee, with terrific relish.
The actors have also turned their characters into living, breathing people, which is no small feat: If they had added even an extra ounce of eccentricity, this group of damaged souls devolving into quirky caricatures, and the whole house of cards would have come tumbling down. Caisley is perceptive about who these people are and how they interact with one another, and because of that, “Lucky Me” ends up being an absorbing and surprisingly human comedy.
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