BY NAVEEN KUMAR
The late Nora Ephron’s new play Lucky Guy, which opened on Broadway last night at the Broadhurst Theatre, resembles not so much conventional drama as kinetic, straight-talking journalism. Starring Tom Hanks as renowned tabloid reporter and columnist Mike McAlary, Ephron’s play depicts the newspaperman’s rise and fall in the world of city tabloids as if it were a feature profile. It's an insider story with many contributors.
The stalwart writers and editors in the smoky newsrooms of Ephron's 80's and 90's New York vie for narrative authority as they retell major events in McAlary’s career — though ultimately all the voices on stage add up to Nora’s own. A veteran of Gotham newsrooms, including a stint at the New York Post, Ephron’s sharp personal insights are the play’s unmistakable highlights.
Often told in the same exclamatory tones as headlines splashed across city tabloids, the main events in McAlary’s life are more illustrated than they are dramatized. Players agree (or disagree) about timelines and scenes are assembled accordingly, but Ephron’s characters rarely divert their attention from addressing the audience — storytelling is their business.
George C. Wolfe (Angels In America) directs an ensemble cast of fifteen led by Hanks, whose signature everyman demeanor and accessible charm are put to good use. Hanks takes the audience into his confidence with ease and brings warmth to the surface of a bullish, ambitious character. He transforms smoothly from a pavement-pounding reporter covering the police beat to a weekly columnist blinded at inopportune times by the size of his byline.
Standouts among the cast include Courtney B. Vance (Fences) as Hap Hairston, and Peter Gerety (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) as John Cotter, two of McAlary’s Newsday editors with whom he had strong bonds. Deirdre Lovejoy is refreshing as two of the only apparent women in the newsroom boy’s club, while Maura Tierney’s subdued performance as McAlary’s wife Alice feels like a missed opportunity to lend the story a more solid emotional anchor.
Yet as events turn to McAlary’s struggle with terminal illness, it’s difficult to overlook the parallel to Ephron’s own, which ended last summer while she was continuing work on this play. Between Hanks' heartfelt performance and words that at moments resonate beyond the character on stage, it’s an affecting conclusion with a broader context.
Ultimately, Ephron’s play is an earnest tribute to a particular heyday of sensational print journalism before the age of Perez Hilton and TMZ. If her characters aren't easy to get to know, it's because they're essentially beat reporters spinning stories about their lives rather than living them on stage.
Ephron's Cotter boils it down: "You’re born, you die. Everything in between is subject to interpretation. […] Everything in between is how you tell the story and who’s telling the story and what they think is important and which order to put it in and where they’re coming from." As her characters maintain their distance, the 'who' in Lucky Guy rarely ceases to be Nora herself—though there are worse ways to spend an evening than listening to anecdotes and insights from a revered New York legend.
Recent theatre features...
'Breakfast At Tiffany's' Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
Annie Baker’s ‘The Flick’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
‘Hit The Wall’ a New Play About the Stonewall Riots, Opens Off-Broadway: REVIEW
Amy Herzog’s ‘Belleville’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Edie Falco Opens In ‘The Madrid’ Off Broadway: REVIEW
Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)