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Lucky Guy

Journalism is a team sport. It takes a newsroom full of Runyonesque characters, a hierarchy of assignments and beats, a bar or two or three, and competition to make it work. In what many think of as the heyday of tabloid journalism—the last two decades of the 20th Century—Mike McAlary's fascinating career was played out in the #1 media market, across the pages of the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and Newsday.

Andrew Uhlenhopp as Mike McAlary
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Nora Ephron, author, screenwriter (Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie and Julia), director, and playwright, loved the gritty atmosphere and camaraderie of what was then a hard-drinking boys club, that spent its days and nights combing the hidden corners of Gotham for sources and facts that would get them a scoop, sell papers, and make names for themselves. In their zeal to sensationalize what these "news hounds" found, the papers armed themselves with lawyers, to stretch the truth while avoiding libel. As we see from our present vantage point, these tactics are essentially the same throughout all journalistic sectors, even if it was most obvious with the tabloids.1

Michael O'Shea as Jimmy Breslin
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Andrew Uhlenhopp is a force of nature as the ego-centric, hard-driving McAlary, whose dream is to have his own column, just like his one-time idol, Jimmy Breslin. In a catharsis we didn't see coming, Uhlenhopp digs deep and holds the audience spellbound, after McAlary wins the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1998, while dying of cancer.

Dwayne Carrington as Hap Hairston
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
McAlary's career is enabled and impeded by a host of characters, any of whom could have stepped right out of a pulp fiction crime blotter or a film noir gumshoe melodrama. John Cotter (Wade Livingston) is the editor that gives McAlary his breakthrough assignment, the famous Tylenol poisoning incident. Livingston paints a vivid picture of a well-lubricated, crusty news arbitor. Hap Hairston (Dwayne Carrington) was a top editor at the Daily News and Newsday, who oversaw three Pulitzer Prize-winning projects in his career, including McAlary's work on the NYPD/Abner Louima torture case. Carrington brings out Hairston's unique blend of good-natured and no-nonsense approach to the craft.

Abby Apple Boes as Alice McAlry
and Andrew Uhlenhopp as Mike McAlary
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
McAlary's wife, Alice (Abby Apple Boes) wins over the boys with her best conductor's voice recitation of the train stops along the Long Island Railroad. Despite McAlary's long days and nights of scaring up facts and comparing notes while drinking with his buddies, Alice provides strong support, particularly during the dark days when McAlary's accusations against a rape victim ostracize him from his once-loyal readership, as well as in the aftermath of a serious car accident and illness. When McAlary considers stepping back to a weekly column, it's Alice that convinces him to take the assignment that leads to his Pulitzer. Boes' pep talk and touching narrative provide an endearing set up for McAlary's swan song.

Tupper Cullum as Michael Daly
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Michael Daly (Tupper Cullum), a high-profile and controversial reporter and author, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2002 for his columns on 9/11, introduces McAlary to key detectives in each borough, which McAlary eventually leverages into a stable of insiders, including the Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton (verite video appearance by Hack Hyland), who provide a regular supply of tips. Daly and McAlary jointly interview the cop who spills the beans on the New York's 77th Precinct infamous Buddy Boys fencing operation and drug ring, before committing suicide. Cullum dials in Daly's enigmatic mix of Yale intellectualism, seasoned street-smarts, and freewheeling style.

Kevin Hart as Eddie Hayes
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Much of McAlary's financial success is attributable to his lawyer, Eddie Hayes (Kevin Hart), known for his signature catch-phrase, "I can get ya outta anything." Hayes played the tabloids against each other and escalated McAlary's salary several times, all the way up to a million bucks a year. Hart is sharp and slick, exuding confidence.

Fine work by Sam Gilstrap as Bob Drury, Michael O'Shea as Jim Dwyer, Lara Maerz as Louise Imerman, and Matthew Blood Smyth as Stanley Joyce rounds out the colorful, rough and tumble press corps. All this is topped off with rich cameos by Andre Hickman as Abner Louima, Jacob Abbas and Max Cabot as wide assortment of characters, and Susie Scott and John Ashton as TV field reporters.

Wade Livingston as John Cotter
Photo: Rachel D. Graham
Ephron originally wrote the script for this story as a screenplay, which creates some staging challenges that director Ashton and the Edge crafts crew deftly navigate, with a boost from Christopher M. Waller's three-scene set (McGuire's Irish Pub, a newsroom, and a bedroom/hospital room).

The Edge Theater Company's regional premiere of Nora Ephron's Lucky Guy runs through July 5th. For tickets: 303-232-0363 or http://www.theedgetheater.com/.

Bob Bows

Footnotes:
1"History ain't what it is. It's what some writer wanted it to be." --Will Rogers

"In March, 1915, the J.P. Morgan interests, the steel, shipbuilding, and powder interests, and their subsidiary organizations, got together 12 men high up in the newspaper world and employed them to select the most influential newspapers in the United States and sufficient number of them to control generally the policy of the daily press. ... They found it was only necessary to purchase the control of 25 of the greatest papers.

"An agreement was reached; the policy of the papers was bought, to be paid for by the month; an editor was furnished for each paper to properly supervise and edit information regarding the questions of preparedness, militarism, financial policies, and other things of national and international nature considered vital to the interests of the purchasers." --U.S. Congressman Oscar Callaway, 1917

"There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. The business of the Journalist is to destroy truth; To lie outright; To pervert; To vilify; To fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals for rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes." --John Swinton, former Chief of Staff, The New York Times, circa 1880

"'A handful of us determine what will be on the evening news broadcasts, or, for that matter, in the New York Times or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal. ... Indeed it is a handful of us with this awesome power ... a strongly editorial power. ... we must decide which news items out of hundreds available we are going to expose that day. And those [news stories] available to us already have been culled and re-culled by persons far outside our control.'" --Walter Cronkite, in the Introduction to "Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News-And Why," Carl Jensen, 1996

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." -- A.J. Liebling

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