We all know what it feels like to be lucky. Those moments in life when things just seem to go our way. It might be a prize you won, a job you landed, a risk that paid off, or a misfortune averted. These moments may be more frequent for some than for others, but everyone knows what it feels like to have a lucky day. Or do they? Luck’s generally seen as a good thing, but there are times when it’s not. In fact, for some, the luckiest day of their life may also turn out to be the worst.
The Lucky Ones is part of Candle House Collective’s Under the Bed, a collection of six different standalone encounters taking place entirely over the phone. Created by Evan Neiden and directed by John Ertman, The Lucky Ones is comprised of two separate calls, each around 45 minutes in length, that take place over two different days. Compared to others in the series, it is one of the most interactive, allowing audiences to lead the conversation in various sections and providing some of the most natural and organic conversation.
Like most of what Candle House Collective produces, the plot and subject matter of The Lucky Ones are deliberately kept vague prior to experiencing it, and in this case, that works strongly to its advantage. While Under the Bed is finished, the less you know going into The Lucky Ones, the better – so if you’re hoping for a remount down the road, consider this your spoiler warning.
As its name suggests, the concept of luck – what it means, the role it plays in our lives, and how it can so quickly be subverted – is very much a theme of The Lucky Ones, but it’s not the only one. The other driving topic and theme of the piece is the devastation and destruction that gun violence and mass shootings can bring to the lives of the victims and the survivors.
The Lucky Ones begins when you’re called by Blake, a young telemarketer who you discover over the course of your conversation is working her last day at the office. She’s a musician who just signed a record deal, and tomorrow she’ll be on a plane for San Francisco – you might even say she’s one of the lucky ones to get a big break. But just as you’re getting to know each other, shots and screams ring out, and suddenly you’re whispering comfort and advice to Blake as she hides in a closet while an active shooter makes his way across her office floor. In the end, you learn from The Lucky Ones’ second core character, a paramedic first responder named Lena, that Blake is the sole survivor in the shooting; her twenty-one coworkers are all dead. Is she lucky that she survived?
The second call takes place two days later for you, but a couple of weeks later in the time-frame of the story. This time, the caller is Lena. Blake has been staying with her and attempting to put the traumatic experience behind her, but it isn’t going very well. The Blake you speak with in this second call is a far cry from the one you met in the first. She’s remote, suffering, angry, broken, and going through Fentanyl withdrawals. It becomes all too clear over the course of the call that this story is absolutely not going to have a happy ending as you realize the upbeat, optimistic young woman you met two days ago is utterly destroyed.
As always, Neiden and Candle House Collective excel in their subtlety and nuance. What’s so heartbreaking about Blake’s story is that you can tell that, despite the utter hopelessness she’s experiencing, she really is trying to move past what happened to her. It’s something that comes through in the smallest of moments over that second call – Blake telling you it’s good to hear your voice, making a quick joke about Lithium, or mentioning something you told her during the shooting. These interactions give you the tiniest glimpse of the person Blake was, which makes her chilling final rant all that more devastating.
That rant is incited by Lena’s insistence that Blake, as a survivor, was a lucky one. It’s a sentiment that just about anyone would agree with, but that logic only works if you see survival as a positive, and it’s clear that Blake doesn’t. And can you blame her? Every single day now, her thoughts are tarred with the graphic sight of her dead coworkers and the image of the shooter pointing the gun at her before turning it on himself. Every hour is spent wondering why she was the one who survived. As she puts it, all she did was hide under a desk. So, is Blake lucky? After experiencing The Lucky Ones, it’s hard to see her that way even though the alternative in her situation – death – certainly seems worse. But that’s the point. Despite what we may tell ourselves to feel better about a horrifying phenomenon, there are no lucky ones when it comes to gun violence and mass shootings.
The Lucky Ones makes brilliant use of symbolism throughout it. The company Blake works for sells placebos – empty pills that offer the illusion of actual medicine. Blake mentions the placebos she used to sell and how they don’t really work when referring to her attempts at convincing herself that she’s getting better. However, it’s easy to take the placebo symbolism even farther and apply it to the gun violence “solutions” being offered up by our nation’s leaders in place of the needed changes that we know might actually work. There are other smart uses of symbolism throughout the experience as well, including one where Lena tries to clean up a mess Blake has made using the wrong tools – a clear allusion to her also failing attempts to clean up the mess that is Blake.
Lena herself is an interesting character because, in spite of being misguided at times, she’s not wrong. What she’s telling Blake to do is really what she should be doing. Blake just isn’t capable of it. Furthermore, Lena’s every bit the victim that Blake is. At one point, you discover she’s responded to twenty-five separate mass shootings in her role as a first responder. Lena may put on a brave face, but by the end of the second call, it’s clear that experience has taken an equally devastating toll on her. The Lucky Ones makes the argument that when people are hurt, physically or mentally, by gun violence, it’s permanent.
The Lucky Ones demands a considerable emotional commitment from its two main actors. Taylor Feld, as Blake, gives a breathtaking, unsparing performance. Over the two phone calls you’ll have with her, she goes from hopeful and upbeat, to utterly terrified, to irreparably shattered. In a remote performance where you’re physically removed from the performer, it can be hard to remain fully engaged, but Feld – aided by Neiden’s exquisite script – makes sure this is never a problem. The same can be said of Cassidy Sledge. As Lena, Sledge’s role offers its own set of challenges since, at times, Lena can seem disconnected and unaware of the depths of Blake’s trauma. Sledge keeps her presence a welcome one, however, by instilling it with warmth and sincerity. As a result, we never doubt that Lena means well, and at the end, when Lena finally succumbs to the hopelessness of the situation, it’s shocking and heartbreaking.
The Lucky Ones isn’t an easy experience to get through. At times, you’re asked questions for which there are absolutely no good answers and asked to comment on things for which there are no words. But the result is a necessary reminder of how unthinkable the reality of gun violence is to a nation that has become jaded to it. It does this by, better than anything else I’ve ever experienced, giving its participants a simulated and partial idea of what it’s like to live through a mass shooting and the human toll it can take, even to the so-called lucky ones. It focuses not on the shooter – who isn’t even named – but on the everyday, innocent people who are his victims.
The Lucky Ones is an affecting, breathtaking modern-day tragedy on a topic that’s impacting an increasing number of us. It’s wonderfully realized from start to finish, never less than gripping, and driven by a pair of performers who seem born to inhabit these roles. With so much empty commentary on the issue of gun violence, it’s refreshing to discover a work that takes an unyielding stand on the subject, and delivers it humanely and potently. The Lucky Ones makes the critical case that if nothing’s done to solve the problem of gun violence, it’s only a matter of time before everyone’s luck runs out.
The Lucky Ones and the entire Under the Bed series are now complete. Find out more information on Candle House Collective and their upcoming shows on their website and Instagram. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive events throughout the year.