By David Sheward
It’s chaotic, it’s grandiose, there’s too much drinking, smoking, swearing, sensationalism. Jeez, it’s just too much altogether. But, like the crazed tabloid journalism era of the 1980s and ’90s that it depicts, the late Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy is a wild, satisfying ride full of danger and passion. It’s not a neat little package, attempting to get a point across about the state of modern media. There’s a throwaway line late in the second act about how print is dead, having been killed by TV, but it’s almost an afterthought.
This sprawling, episodic biography of the gutsy, gritty columnist Mike McAlary is a tribute to the kind of bare-knuckled reporting and the flawed lucky guy himself. Ephron’s frequent movie collaborator Tom Hanks makes his Broadway debut in the title role. Eschewing his nice-guy film image, Hanks tears into the red meat of the part with relish. From his first entrance when he directly asks an audience member, "This is New York. Who’s relaxed? Are you relaxed?" to a tearful speech for newsroom colleagues when McAlary wins a Pulitzer Prize, Hanks grabs us and never lets go. He may as well start dusting his shelf for a Tony Award to go alongside his two Oscars.
The play is a bit of a jumble, starting in a smoke-filled bar with a chorus of rough-edged reporters singing an Irish folk song and then telling McAlary’s story as he progresses from lowly reporter relegated to the wilds of Queens to the highest-paid columnist in the city. He grabs the front page but also gets into trouble on occasion. A false report about a rape victim results in a lawsuit, which nearly ruins his reputation. Characters frequently trade off narrator duties, interrupt each other to get their viewpoints in, and assume different personae ("You play Jimmy Breslin," one editor shouts to a bartender).
Ephron reportedly intended it as a film or TV script, and that certainly shows the rapid pace and short scenes. Fortunately, director George C. Wolfe knows a thing or two about staging unwieldy scripts in a cinematic fashion. Remember Angels in America and Bring in ‘da Noise…? Aided by David Rockwell’s fluid, suggestive sets and the black-and-white, in-your-face video projections of Batwin + Robin Productions, Wolfe gives Guy the necessary freight-train intensity. He also knows when to hit the brakes-as in an uncomfortable, heart-wrenching moment when McAlary interviews a ravaged Abner Louima (an understated Stephen Tyrone Williams) about being sodomized by rogue cops.
Despite Hanks’s megawatt movie-star status-he gets the only solo curtain call-this is not a one-man show. Rare for Broadway nonmusicals, the cast boasts 16 additional actors, many of whom are given moments to stand out. Courtney B. Vance is sandpaper and satin as an editor who loves McAlary but hates his excesses. Deirdre Lovejoy is foul-mouthed and funny as one of the few women in a man’s world. Danny Mastrogiorgio lends fire to a jealous colleague.
Playing McAlary’s alcoholic mentor, Peter Gerety makes his scenes with Hanks have such a relaxed authenticity, the two seem like just a couple of guys vigorously debating journalism after quite a few drinks rather than a pair of experienced actors on a Broadway stage. The only one who really gets lost in the mayhem is Maura Tierney as McAlary’s long-suffering wife, Alice. She is relegated to the role of occasionally complaining, but ultimately supportive spouse, one of the few dull characters in an otherwise explosive production.
April 5, 2013
Apr. 1-June 16. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 2 hours and 10 minutes with intermission. $82-152. (800) 432-7250.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Originally Published on April 5, 2013 in ArtsinNY.com
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