Saturday, May 25, 2013

REVIEW: Lucky Guy

Review of the Wednesday, May 22 matinee at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.  Starring Tom Hanks, Peter Gerety, Richard D. Masur, Christopher McDonald, Peter Scolari, Maura Tierney, and Courtney B. Vance. A new play by Nora Ephron.  Directed by George C. Wolfe.  2 hours 10 minutes, including intermission.  Closes July 3.

Grade: C

I never thought in a million years that I'd write anything with the words "Tom Hanks" and "disappointment" in the same sentence.  But here we are.  Despite a worthy stage performance by film icon Tom Hanks, the new play Lucky Guy by the late Nora Ephron was an enormous disappointment.  One has to wonder, in all fairness, how different the play would be had Ms. Ephron lived to see the production and work on her play in previews.  And I have to respect that the creative team pretty much left the work as is out of respect for the playwright.  But, as it stands, the play comes across more like a series of movie cues with general notes like, "Mike and wife have a gentle argument over anonymous call."  Unfortunately, what works in screenwriting or on the written page in general does not translate to the stage or live performance.  The overall result is that Ephron (and director George C. Wolfe) has a play that does the worst thing a play can do: 95% of it tells us everything we need to know, while only 5% of it shows us. Ah well, it is what it is.

Tom Hanks and Maura Tierney
 So what did I learn from Lucky Guy? Generally, that news reporters are a loud, foul-mouthed bunch, with a fierce loyalty to each other, until the shit really hits the fan, then they jump ship like the rest of us would have. Specifically, that famous New York columnist Mike McAlary was the loudest of them all, hungry for a story, a lead, anything that uncovers the uglier side of the city that he loves and that is his bread and butter.  He has his professional ups and downs - including the ultimate "I won't reveal my sources" show down that is the staple of all newsroom dramas.  And he has personal ups and downs - his home life faces the typical challenges when work seems to always take precedence over family, and he wages a triumphant battle over a deadly form of cancer.  It is no wonder they got Tom Hanks to play this role - when the inevitable (and hopefully much better) film is made, he can make room for another Oscar on his mantle.  To his credit, Hanks makes the most of what he is given, entirely at ease on stage, and giving his adoring fans everything they want.  Heck, there are even a few minutes when he gets to channel a version of the guy he played in Philadelphia.  Those few moments, coupled with a brief second when he has a heart-to-heart with his wife (an otherwise bored looking and oh-so-bland Maura Tierney), show us what could have been.

The reporters at the bar...
The reporters at the office...

Otherwise, the remaining two hours traffic on the stage, is a series of narration bits followed by brief scenes of dialogue that usually lead to a joke. (Picture a film with rapid, cross-cut scenes, and a voice over.)  As the stage is filled with actors I am familiar with, I was able to distinguish between the inebriated newspaper hacks that populate the stage in various pools of light (designed by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer) as they bark out the series of events that make up the plot.  If I didn't know who Peter Scolari, Christopher McDonald and Richard Masur were already, I wouldn't have been able to distinguish between any of the reporters.  They all play real life reporters, but I couldn't tell you one thing about any of them as individuals.  Not even when, at the end, there is a "roll call of death" where those that have passed announce their demise as the projections (designed by Batwin + Robin) give us their epitaphs.  Clearly designed to make us shed a tear or two, I was left dry (as was everyone around me as a matter of fact) and not feeling a whole lot more than a sense of relief that it was almost over.

Tom Hanks and Courtney B. Vance

Aside from the valiant efforts of Mr. Hanks, the only other bright spots were ensemble member Deirdre Lovejoy, who makes a significant impression in both roles she plays: one a really foul mouthed, but hilarious female reporter from early in McAlary's career (it is amazing what she does with a hand gesture and "fuck you!"), and a more earnest editor from later in his career.  What makes Ms. Lovejoy stand out is that she has the same narrative lines to yell at us that everyone else does, but she still manages to create a relatable character.  The other bright spot is the always terrific Courtney B. Vance, who does everything he can with the same, much like Ms. Lovejoy.  He manages to make a supporting character have the most emotional impact.

What does it say about a show, though, when the producers provide each audience member not only with a Playbill, but what has to be an expensive insert.  It is a full color, card stock folder with a director's note, a message from the playwright, and a separate card from the designer that explains the (unattractive) show curtain.  Sure, you find these things in many souvenir programs, but it is the content that is telling.  Wolfe tells us what we are supposed to get out of each act thematically.  Ephron tells us why Lucky Guy is a labor of love for her and her love of journalists.  Only designer David Rockwell adds much with his contribution, a fascinating explication of what might actually be a piece of stage art.

Tom Hanks as Mike McAlary

The Lucky Guy Company

Ultimately, no matter how much Wolfe has the cast move around Rockwell's set pieces, or how many different pools of light Fisher and Eisenhauer conjure up, what we are watching is a one-note exhibition of shouting, swearing and narration.  If Tom Hanks, arguably one of America's greatest actors, can't make this tribute to an interesting man more interesting, I don't think anyone can.  Hanks proves, unlike some recent film stars, that he really belongs on the Broadway stage.  I hope he comes back, and soon, but in a vehicle worthy of his talents.

(Photos by Joan Marcus)



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