Nora Ephron is a sage. I would say “was” but when the printed word is still here it makes the message very much in the present. And in this play she is telling the story, not of a Lucky Guy, but just a guy. And that makes all the difference.
Mike McAlary (Tom Hanks) was not a perfect person – not even a little bit. He was obsessed with being a newspaper reporter, and that obsession is first in line - before his family, before his colleagues, before his loyalty to an employer. And in this script, Nora Ephron has patched together a story that, while not great, definitely holds up under scrutiny.
As written, this is an ensemble piece – and Tom Hanks blends in beautifully after the first 30 or so seconds - because if had been left to McAlary he could not have told his story. What can you say after, “All I ever wanted to be was a reporter in New York City.” I mean, where is the drama in that? Instead, this is more a story of the mess that McAlary left in his own wake. He didn’t turn stones over; he kicked them out of the way. He was determined, heavy handed and relentless. He gave off some kind of glow. And his colleagues loved to stand close enough to feel the heat.
McAlary started at Newsday back in the 1980’s when the city was in a mess financially and spirit wise. By the time he died in 1998 at the age of 41 he had left Newsday and bounced back and forth between the Daily News and the New York Post so many times that his health insurance standing was always iffy. His constant companion, other than his wife Alice (Maura Tierney) was his editor Hap Hairston (Courtney B. Vance) who was the voice of reason, of conscience, and most importantly of good writing.
In many ways, while Ephron’s story is about McALary – it is his co-workers and especially Hap Hairston (Courney B. Vance is very fine indeed) who are the glue for this story. This extraordinary ensemble pulls the tale together as if it were a small solar system whose sun was McAlary. While they admire the crap out of the guy, and are jealous of his chutzpah, they wouldn’t tell him that to his face. Even the well-heeled Eddie Hayes (Christopher McDonald) who’s motto is I can getcha outta anything, never assumes the role of second fiddle when face to face with Mike. It is Hayes who gives McAlary a leg up into the suburbs by arranging a mortgage for a 500k house on McAlarys’ 58k salary. Soon the two of them are finagling more than that and McAlary becomes one of the highest paid newspapermen in history.
It is this tension between McAlary and everyone else that is the fuel that propels us forward from one mess to another. So when the final challenge comes – the big C that will not be dismissed – there is a universal need for McAlary to toss this dragon aside the way he did all the others and lead his tribe onward. When he doesn’t, the effect of his life and death can be seen strewn across the plains for mile around.
Mike McAlary did not live life; he devoured it, much like Nora Ephron who seems to have done it all and left us way too soon. No wonder she wanted to write about him. They were two of a kind.
But in the end, I think they both would eschew being singled out. All they wanted to do was leap in the pool with the other passionate people. Journalism was where they both started, but the world was where they were heading.
This is an iconic story that mixes fiction and fact and sticks to your ribs. We need these every once in awhile.
PS – Can anyone tell me when someone is going to get the length of men’s pants right? Out on the street I don’t’ see men with slacks so long they drag on the ground. Why in the theatre? Do the costumers consistently run out of time and think Oh the hell with it. No one will notice THAT. Well, I do.
"Not so much a fully developed play or even a persuasive character study as a boisterous swapping of fond anecdotes about the end of a life and the end of an era. ... ..turns out to be little more than the sum of its anecdotes."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Although it’s heartfelt, the show is a hodgepodge. Long-winded and overly linear."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"A really fun, really entertaining eulogy."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Breezy but thin."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"The play doesn't probe very deeply, or have the dramatic oomph to lift us easily over its few slow spots."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Nora Ephron [has] created a deeply satisfying work that has sprung to vivid life."
Roma Torre for NY1
"Scarcely a drama for the ages, but Hanks’ exciting performance and the excellence of Wolfe’s production make it a satisfying evening of theater.
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Is it exceptional drama? Not by any means. It’s talky, cursory in its conflict exploration, and not exactly packed with complexity. Yet it’s intelligently written, engrossing and laced with crackling humor."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Helmer George C. Wolfe has embedded Hanks in a terrific ensemble of veteran character actors and a helluva time is had by all. But once the star ankles, as stars must, the shelf life of this New York-centered show is zilch."
Marilyn Stasion for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...