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Lucky Guy at Little Lake Theater

Nora Ephron’s play is a slightly sentimental valentine to New York tabloid journalism

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Greg Caridi and Jill Walters in Lucky Guy, at Little Lake Theater - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER SPIRIK
  • Photo courtesy of Heather Spirik
  • Greg Caridi and Jill Walters in Lucky Guy, at Little Lake Theater

Following her death the year before, 2013 saw the Broadway debut of Nora Ephron’s only play, Lucky Guy, which starred Tom Hanks making his Broadway debut. Little Lake Theater presents the Pittsburgh premiere, giving local audiences the chance to see if it works without an Oscar winner in the lead.

As it turns out, it’s not the lack of Hanks but the absence of New York City that’s problematic. Let me throw out a few names: Mike McAlary, Hap Hairston, Jim Dwyer, Stanley Joyce, Abner Louima, The Daily News, The New York Post, William Bratton, Tawana Brawley. These people, newspapers and scandals are the background and foreground of Ephron’s play, and unless you obsessively followed New York’s tabloid-news scene of the ’80s and ’90s, much of this script is heavy sledding.

And that’s too bad because there’s a great story and a great character at the center: Mike McAlary was a maverick reporter who made his name exposing police corruption, winning a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Louima case. He’s also famous for some bad reporting, and died at the age of 41 from cancer.

Ephron’s play is a slightly sentimental valentine to those days of New York journalism and the hard-drinking, hard-working, hard-talking (be warned!) men who chewed their way through it. For all his faults, McAlary did shine a light into the dark corners of official corruption and his story is an important one.

So I advise you to hang on for what seems like an eternity (but, in truth, just most of the first act), as nine actors (some doubling roles) run though all those names and more listed above; there’s lots of growling and shouting about characters and events you won’t know. (Which may be part of the reason the cast seemed oddly tentative playing such relentless people.) Had Ephron focused more on the play’s structure (giving Little Lake director Jena Oberg something to work with), this act might not have felt so obtuse and scattershot.

I’m very happy to report, however, that the second act lands precisely in the manner Ephron meant. Her story and focus sharpen, and we get some crackerjack storytelling. It’s also a chance for the cast to finally latch onto a plot and delve more deeply into their roles.

Greg Caridi presents a McAlary probably much nicer than the real one, but that puts us clearly on his side: It’s because of his strong performance that we follow as much of the play as we do. Art DeConciliis is moving and funny in alternate roles as a crooked cop and a Queens lawyer. The whole cast, in fact, hits its stride in the second act including Jill Walters, Scott Nunnally, Tyson Sears, Renee Ruzzi-Kern, Michael Shahen and, especially, John E. Reilly (playing two diametrically opposed editors) and Bruce Crocker as the journalist Jim Dwyer.

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