Getting the rights to stage Carl Hiaasen’s 1997 “Lucky You” wasn’t easy. The Florida novelist has turned down proposed adaptations of his works since being disappointed by the 1996 movie made of his “Strip Tease.” It took producers Katharine Dore and Jon Plowman and helmer Francis Matthews three years and a private performance in Hiaasen’s home to get the go-ahead. But although the production — which preemed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has its sights on London –is bright and bubbly, it’s hard to see why they were quite so determined to get such a throw-away piece of theater on stage.
Hiaasen has made his name writing pacy fiction gently infused with liberal-left politics — as well as a particular concern for the environment. Like British novelist Christopher Brookmyre, he gives weight to his humor by satirizing reactionary forces in society, although never to the detriment of his lively plots. It’s a feelgood formula that led to one commentator calling him “America’s finest satirical novelist.”
What comes across most strongly in Matthews’ adaptation of “Lucky You” are the colorful, cartoonish characters and the knock-about narrative. This is the story of the sassy and independent-minded young woman, JoLayne Lucks (Nicola Alexis), whose numbers come up in the Florida lotto. A socially minded animal lover, she immediately sees her opportunity to save her neighboring Simmons Wood from being turned into a shopping mall and parking lot (“Like the Joni Mitchell song”) by buying it herself.
The future of the planet — and her 40 turtles — would be assured were it not for the two red-neck patriots whose numbers have also come up in the lottery. With the warped logic of white supremacists, they reckon they have a claim on Lucks’ share of the $28 million and set about stealing it.
The theft is a threat not only to Lucks, who is too self-effacing even to report it to the police, but to the very environmental health of the state. In this way, Hiaasen locks his readers into sharing the same green goals as his heroine.
Throw in a besotted investigative reporter, a jealous judge, a Hooters waitress, a wayward government agent and sundry other larger-than-life characters and the way is set for a comic cross between a road movie and a crime caper.
Matthews’ cast has a feel for Hiaasen’s broad-brushstroke humor, turning in a bright set of primary colored performances given added theatrical zest by their doubling and fast costume changes. Alexis is a no-nonsense Lucks who shows a warm heart beneath the self-reliant exterior. So eccentric is everyone else that it’s hard to distinguish between friend and foe, although Corey Johnson and Paul Reynolds as her adversaries are such prime examples of dull-witted conspiracy theorists that their fall-guy status is in little doubt.
So far, so jolly — and on a set framed by a giant license plate, the metal ripped in two, with four old-fashioned televisions adding to the imagery, there is an amiable air of fun. The original songs and incidental music by Loudon Wainwright III bolster the atmosphere of knowing irreverence.
But, like many stage adaptations of novels, the narrative begins to dominate, allowing no room for the kind of character development and metaphorical resonance that you expect from an original play. The closer Lucks comes to getting her money back, the more inconsequential the story seems, leaving us with an enjoyable but forgettable experience.