Review - Lucky Guy
In a time when discussions of rape culture and the possibility of the media slanting rape coverage against accusers are controversial subjects in our national conscious, its rather fortunate timing that the highest profile play of the Broadway season involves a New York tabloid reporter whose career was defined by two headline-making rape cases.
In 1994 the Daily News published a column by Mike McAlary stating that, according to his NYPD source, a Jane Doe who claimed to have been raped in Prospect Park two days earlier was suspected of making the story up to help draw attention to her upcoming speech at a rally denouncing violence against gay men and lesbians. The woman sued McAlary and the Daily News for 12 million dollars as the public debated the boundaries of free speech, the responsibility of the press and the feasibility of libel existing against someone whose identity is hidden.
His career might have faded away if he hadn't gained an exclusive hospital bedside interview with Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, as he was recovering from wounds suffered while being raped by police in a racially motivated incident. His coverage would earn him a Pulitzer Prize awarded only months before he succumbed to colon cancer at age 41.
A full-length play about either of those cases, or even a single piece that compared the significant differences between the two, could have made for riveting drama. But the late Nora Ephron, who passed on before Lucky Guy went into rehearsals, is a writer best known for cinematic love letters, and while her bio-drama about McAlary doesn't ignore the warts, it is in whole a love letter to a fellow Gotham journalist (She spent 5 years as a reporter for the New York Post) and to the ink-stained romanticism of the tabloid newspaper industry.
The boys club atmosphere of New York Newsday, The New York Post and The New York Daily News, the city's three tabloid papers (The Times is dismissed as, "a serious paper. Fuck it!"), is represented by a kind of Greek chorus led by news editor Hap Hairston (Courtney B. Vance), columnist Michael Daly (Peter Scolari) and managing editor John Cotter (Peter Gerety). Actually, in spirit they're more of an Irish chorus, first seen getting snockered at a friendly tavern while engaged in a loud chorus of "Wild Rover." The excellent collection of supporting actors in the large ensemble also includes Christopher McDonald as lawyer Eddie Hayes, Maura Tierney as McAlary's wife and Richard Masur doubling as editors Jerry Nachman and Stanley Joyce, but none of them are asked to stretch their acting muscles very far in roles that primarily serve to move the narrative along or to dole out information about the lucky one.
Jimmy Breslin is spoken of in much-revered tones but never appears on stage, despite a mention that at one point he's in the same tavern as the newsmen.
As McAlary himself, Tom Hanks seems more of a sentimental choice, given his past association with the playwright - not to mention a commercial one - than a case of ideal casting. The actor's talent for representing a sweet, decent everyman is put to its best use in a scene where he's trying to get quotes from a frightened, suspicious source by convincing him that he's the good guy reporter who will make sure his side of the story gets heard, but he's not as convincing as the hard-nosed, tough-guy journalist whose creased, mustachioed mug and tough-guy swagger helped make a name for himself during the gritty Koch years before becoming a familiar symbol of the city's Dinkins/Giuliani decade.
Part of his challenge is that the text only gives him a tabloid version of the man to play with. Perhaps Ephron would have deepened her portrait (like "a serious paper" would) if she had a chance to make revisions during previews, but Lucky Guy sprints through a dozen or so years like a highlight reel, covering his rise from police beat reporter, his near death while drunk driving, his insistence that his did the right thing regarding Jane Doe and his determination to get the Louima story while going through chemotherapy. Mentioned, but significantly underdeveloped, is the reporter's unique relationship with the New York Police Department, especially regarding the officer who committed suicide shortly after talking with him about corruption in the 77th precinct, which would be the subject of his controversial book, Buddy Boys.
But the exceptional work of director George C. Wolfe, best known for painting broad, colorful and atmospheric stage pictures for plays like Angels In America and The Normal Heart, places the evening in a vivid, fast-moving, attitude-infused New York of 25 years ago, particularly realized by David Rockwell's kinetic set, Scott Lehrer's period sound and headline-screaming projections by Batwin-Robin Productions, Inc.
The evening is certainly entertaining, with choice Ephron zingers enhancing the acerbic mood, but the play is less a biography of McAlary than a nostalgic look at the last gasps of the pre-Internet newsroom. Near the end of the second act, a character acknowledges how cable television has changed the way the public gets their news. If he only knew what was coming...
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Stephen Tyrone Williams, Deirdre Lovejoy and Tom Hanks; Bottom: (top row) Tom Hanks, Richard Masur and Dustyn Gulledge (bottom row) Peter Gerety, Andrew Hovelson and Brian Dykstra.