Feature

Lucky Guy

Tom Hanks makes his Broadway debut as tabloid columnist Mike McAlary in the play Nora Ephron finished shortly before her death.

Broadhurst Theatre, New York(212) 239-6200

Rarely has a play had so many people desperately wanting to like it, said Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. Ashow “rolling in goodwill” inspired by affection for its late creator, Lucky Guy uses a script that screenwriter Nora Ephron finished shortly before her death last June, and employs a “wagonful of talent”—including Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut—that helped ensure a staging took shape. Ephron apparently saw great dramatic potential in the life of Mike McAlary, a swaggering tabloid columnist who briefly sat atop the New York City police and crime beat before a professional stumble and his death from cancer at 41. Unfortunately, Lucky Guy turns out to be little more than “a dull, stalled play about a not particularly noteworthy mug with a flair for self-promotion.” If Ephron were alive, she surely would have requested time for a rewrite.

Flaws aside, the show “magnificently conjures” the lost era it celebrates, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. The New York of the late 1980s and early 1990s was roiled by crime and racial tensions, and the best of the “ink-stained wretches” who covered it “ruled the world.” Director George C. Wolfe keeps that backdrop pulsating even when McAlary’s story goes flat. And Hanks has the good sense not to pretend that McAlary was pure hero. He brings “just enough sympathy” to McAlary, whose flaws could have rendered him a wholly unlikable character, especially after he publishes a series of columns falsely accusing a rape victim of lying. Later on, Ephron’s script overdoes the sentimentality when the ailing McAlary receives a Pulitzer Prize for exposing a white cop’s brutal sodomization of a Haitian immigrant. Hanks, however, “wisely underplays” the reporter’s moment of triumph.

As committed as he is, Hanks has been given too little to work with, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Because the play is engineered to suggest that every biography is “only a collage of others’ perceptions,” the portrait of McAlary that we get becomes “little more than the sum of its anecdotes.” Lucky Guy has “the heart and energy of the perpetually engaged, insatiably curious observer that Ephron never ceased to be.” But as a portrait and as drama, it “feels only newsprint deep.”

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