THE MAN WHO HAD ALL THE LUCK, by Arthur Miller. Starring Chris O’Donnell. A Roundabout Theatre Company production at the American Airlines Theatre. Through June 30.
For the second time in one theatrical season, an Irish, or, in this case, Irish-American actor has turned in an exemplary performance in a demanding role that is the heart and soul of a play by Arthur Miller, America’s most durable living dramatist.
First to arrive, of course, was Liam Neeson, whose brilliantly crafted powerhouse performance as John Proctor, the hero of Miller’s modern classic, “The Crucible,” should be honored with a Tony when the winners are announced Sunday night.
More recently arrived is Chris O’Donnell, a 31-year-old actor making his Broadway debut after more than a decade of highly visible film work, most notably in support of Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” and as the male lead in the movie version of M’ve Binchy’s popular novel “Circle of Friends.”
The play that brings O’Donnell to the New York stage is the first local revival of “The Man who Had All the Luck,” Miller’s initial work for the theater, first produced in November 1944, when it ran for just four performances.
This early Miller play turns out to be an astonishingly cohesive and satisfying work, both on its own and as a harbinger of what the playwright would produce later on, work including “All My Sons,” “Death of a Salesman” and “The Crucible.”
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Much of the credit for the success of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s strong production of “The Man Who Had All the Luck,” running at the American Airlines Theatre, goes to O’Donnell’s pitch-perfect, unshowy performance in the title role of David Beeves, an ordinary young Midwesterner whose unflagging good fortune is nearly his undoing.
Miller appears to have written the play when he was in his 20s, not so long after he spent time as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. The impact Midwest must have had on the fledgling writer, born and raised in Brooklyn, is reflected emphatically in director Scott Ellis’s straightforward handling of the material and in Allen Moyer’s beautiful scenic concept, with walls of whitewashed panels giving way to a sky of brilliant azure.
Beeves, an unspectacular youth, handsome in a non-threatening sort of way, a “type” Miller must have observed in great abundance in Michigan, plays no active part in his own seemingly endless luck.
The father of the girl he loves detests him, but he’s killed off in a road accident, clearing the way for romance and marriage. Confronted with a valuable automobile he’s unable to repair, he’s visited in the middle of the night by a mysterious Austrian mechanic, newly arrived in town, who fixes the car while the befuddled Beeves naps on the floor of the garage.
And so it goes, until, having become a mink “rancher,” Beeves does at last contribute, albeit passively, to his own fortunate destiny.
Miller’s themes are all here in embryo form, including a father with “all the wrong dreams,” conflict between a pair of brothers, one of them eternally favored over the other in the father’s eyes, and so on. The play’s strongest scene, a bitter combat between a father and his two sons, could easily have been a draft for a moment in “Death of a Salesman.”
“The Man Who Had All the Luck” has been described as the only play Arthur Miller ever wrote that has a happy ending. Even this is debatable, since in the awkward third act, the suggestion is planted, and then abandoned, that Beeves’s inability to accept his unbroken run of good fortune, combined with the guilt he feels at having been the recipient of so many unearned blessings, may be causing him to lose his mind.
At the play’s conclusion, the point is left unresolved.
Above all, director Ellis has had “all the luck” in putting together his fine cast, as compelling as it is convincing down to the slightest detail of speech and mannerism.
As Dan Dibble, the wealthy owner of the touring car Beevis has difficulty repairing, Miller veteran Mason Adams turns in a fine sketch of a rich local eccentric, while James Rebhorn makes something memorable of Pat Beeves, the self-deluded father of two boys.
As the beloved, baseball-playing “other” son, Amos, Ryan Shively is both suitably powerful and slightly dim-witted. Dan Moran’s Shory, a wheelchair-bound veteran of World War I, is Miller’s convincing messenger, delivering some of the playwright’s characteristically sermonizing fragments, while Richard Riehle scores as a hard-drinking, card-playing family friend.
Sam Robards is both eloquent and indispensable as the vaguely otherworldly Gus, while Mary Catherine Wright, David Wohl and Edward James Hyland are effective as, respectively, a helpful aunt with a permanent case of the sniffles, a baseball scout, and the brutal, doomed father of Hester Falk, the girl the young mechanic loves.
— Joseph Hurley