Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Scratch any family history, and you’re bound to draw some blood. Abigail Bengson’s childhood experience has more than most. Her husband, Shaun—with whom she forms the electrofolk band the Bengsons—announces at the outset that the heaven-to-hell-and-back scenario they describe in The Lucky Ones is “a true story, even the parts that never happened.” It is a harrowing one.
Depicted in flashback, Abigail’s extended family is dedicated to providing a “happy magic hippy tolerant” Maine-woods childhood for their offspring. They run a Summerhill-like school, where most of the adults work, including Abigail’s messianic father (Tom Nelis), who stirs up his adolescent (and already naturally self-obsessed) charges with the rallying cry “You are the whole world!” Abigail recalls herself at age 15 as a bundle of social anxiety, but her shyness seems to have sharpened her observational skills. She looks on as her brash older sister Emily (vocal powerhouse Ashley Pérez Flanagan) befriends a new girl, Emma (Adina Verson, poignant of voice and persona), who falls in love with wild cousin Kai (Damon Daunno, outshrieking Steven Tyler). A teen bacchanal, thrillingly choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, culminates in a cozy romance—but not for long.
Looking back years later, Kai’s mother (Maryann Plunkett, reliably down-to-earth) manages, in classic maternal fashion, to assume the blame for the tragedy that ensues, but nothing in this story is that simple. The lucky ones, the show suggests, are those who, born into damage, can still “open up.” Abigail Bengson, with her extraordinarily expressive musical and authorial voice, does so magnificently.
Connelly Theater (Off Broadway). Book by the Bengsons and Sarah Gancher. Music and lyrics by the Bengsons. Directed by Anne Kauffman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.