Tom Hanks is The ‘Lucky Guy’ in Nora Ephron’s Play
By: Isa Goldberg
Wide-eyed with furrowed brow, a pouty chin that puckers into contortions, and enormous swelling of the head. That is the image of the beloved tabloid columnist, Mike McAlary, the central character in "Lucky Guy." Played by Tom Hanks with oversized energy and a vigorous sense of inner tension, the role is well suited to his Broadway debut. The multi-Academy Award nominated actor gives us an intimate connection to a man without pretense – one who had no interest in putting up a front for anyone.
Best known for her films "Silkwood" and "When Sally Met Harry," Nora Ephron’s first Broadway play, premiering posthumously, harkens back to her early days as a 21-year-old reporter for The New York Post. As described by Ephron, "the editor was a sexual predator. The managing editor was a lunatic. Sometimes it seemed half the staff was drunk."
Director George C. Wolfe captures the madhouse environment of the gritty newspaper offices where McAlary made his name. From The Daily News and New York Newsday to The Post, it’s a man’s world, and as such, quintessential territory for Wolfe, who made his name with productions such as "Angels in America" and "The Normal Heart." Here Wolfe shows us the camaraderie of men who drink heavily, embrace fondly, compete openly, brawl fist to fist, and sing with an Irish brogue.
Still, one of the most credible performances in this production is Maura Tierney’s as McAlary’s wife, a role in which she is simply down to earth as well as ruthlessly challenging. In addition, the team of reporters and editors in the newsroom make for the feisty, humorous ongoing life of the play. Courtney B. Vance stands out as McAlary’s editor and the show’s part time narrator, Richard Masur, as the snidely executive editor, Danny Mastrogiorgio, as a jealous colleague, and Stephen Tyrone Williams, as the sensitive youth Abner Louima, keep the ball rolling.
Indeed, it was Mike McAlary’s investigative report about the New York City cops who brutally assaulted Louima, an immigrant black youth, that made "wood" – that means the front page in newspaper lingo – putting Louima’s case against NYPD on the map. It also won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.
Like the columnists he admired in his youth, Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, McAlary was drawn to stories about the common man, people who he believed were like him. And Hanks is a savvy interpreter of the reporter’s laid back approach to interviews, his ability to draw people out and his relentless search for truth of the tabloid variety, that is. Ephron also explores the reporter’s missteps -his erroneously informed piece on the rape of a black lesbian that led to a multi-million dollar case against the Daily News and his heavy drinking that led to his nearly fatal car crash.
Unlike Breslin and Hamill who are alive and kicking even after the diminution of newspapers, McAlary’s brief strut through the tabloids ended at the age of 41 -from cancer. Does Luck run out, "Have I used it all up? Is there just so much and… " The question is close to the bone for the reporter, as indeed it must have been for the playwright, who poses the question.
The projections (Batwin – Robin Productions) bounce off the back wall with panache. Those memorable mastheads, articles, swirling reds and hospital beds make a robust addition to the ongoing action. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes and David Rockwell’s sets evoke the realism of the period in the 1980s when McAlary started out as a cub reporter.
But Ephron steps beyond rigid realism by writing monologues that are delivered directly to the audience, giving us a direct route into the narrative. While newspapers themselves may be fading into the past, two of its most colorful contributors, Nora Ephron and Mike McAlary, live on, at least for a couple of hours nightly, at the Broadhurst Theatre.
‘Lucky Guy’ is a limited engagement at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. For tickets call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, visit telecharge.com or go to the box office.
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