Lucky Guy: Theater Review
At first glance, it seems like a really odd subject for a play. Lucky Guy is a story about the career of a tabloid newspaper journalist, told across three newsrooms, two decades (the 1980’s and 1990’s), three major career-defining stories of scandals in New York, two health crises, and shaped out of highs and lows of career, personal life and health. It is very definitely a New York story, steeped in the politics of Guiliani, Dinkins, the NYPD, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and even the culture of the Hamptons.
Mike McAlary’s career is a really odd subject for a play.
But Nora Ephron’s writing, and this production convinced me. It worked. I really like the way it was staged, creating the newsroom with close-set desks, and with a screen stretched across the top half of the stage, to project McAlary’s big headlines.
McAlary’s character, portrayed by Tom Hanks, is the fulcrum for the story and the rest of the characters. Grumpy editors and fast-talking reporters in the ensemble cast work around him as a sort of foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Greek chorus. (F-word appears frequently in the script.) They cover stories, push for leads, and ledes, adjourn to the bar. McAlary gets his own column, comes home late from stories (or from the bar) to his wife, navigates, inexpertly, the pressures between newsroom and home. With career success comes more money and notoriety- enter Eddie Hayes as both lawyer to untangle contracts and scandals, and slick guide to the life of people with big houses in the Hamptons.
Everyone in the cast impressed me, going deep into their characters, to navigate the emotions and complex relationships between reporters and editors, reporters and the stories they told. The ensemble has terrific chemistry with each other. The Newspaper Business itself was as present as if it were another character in the play, its complex emotions for people who’ve worked within it and seen it change, during McAlary’s career and beyond.
Full disclosure: I see this play from a particular slant, as the daughter of one of its characters. (The role of Daily News Editor Jim Willse was too small for the actor to receive mention in the Playbill, but I gleefully poked Dad in the ribs every time I heard the actors say his name. Sorry, Dad.) I met Mike McAlary once or twice as a kid, along with the editor Debbie Krenek, and Eddie Hayes. I got a kick out of seeing the actors portraying them. Uncanny resemblance!
I grew up spending weekend afternoons in newsrooms. So the stage sets with beige computers on beige desks, the constant muttering and rumbling of editors and reporters looked like my fond childhood memories. Ink, and calling across the newsroom and smart-assing one another, but always with a sense of respect, cameraderie. (Early exposure to newsrooms may in fact have fueled my own love of banter.) I even have some vague memories of some of the events the play covers. I remember Dad talking about editing McAlary’s column more than I remember the man himself. And I remember some of the events the play covers, like the Daily News strike. But more in the pieced-together way of a kid’s understanding, I think I was about ten or so.
Seeing the play as someone steeped in newsroom culture practically since birth, made me curious about other experiences of Lucky Guy, both in terms of reasons for coming to see it, and reactions to the show itself. The show was sold out tonight, and I gather it’s been doing well. I’m sure Tom Hanks is a significant draw. I wonder what people who come from out of town think of the play, of its New Yorkness, of its vision of the newsroom. Obviously, I can’t really know what it’s like to see the show without the lifetime of context I have. Talking to Dad about it got me wondering: If I hadn’t grown up knowing newsroom life, would my experience working as a personal trainer, taking part in gaming groups, even hanging out watching football, have given me enough context for the ways guys razz each other to be familiar in a newsroom stage setting? (Asking the follow-up question: did I gravitate towards all these because of my newsroom-steeped childhood? is a giant digression for this already lengthy post.)