It’s hard to go wrong when you begin a production with a bunch of guys in an Irish pub drunkenly singing the Clancy Brothers’ “Isn’t it grand, boys, to be bloody well dead? Let’s not have a snivel, let’s have a bloody good cry. And always remember, the longer you live, the sooner you bloody well die.”
I don’t know if this song is in Nora Ephron’s stage directions for Lucky Guy, now making its regional premiere at the Edge Theater, or if it’s the inspiration of director John Ashton — but it sets the scene perfectly for a play about the world of the boisterous New York tabloids in the 1980s, before electronic media began destroying print. It was a time when newsrooms were still primarily male, and the image of the quintessential New York reporter was of a disheveled, profane, hard-boiled Irish guy with a bottle of booze at his elbow and a fire in his heart for exposing lies and wrongdoing. The city was suffering a crack epidemic, criminality and police corruption were rampant, and it was a great time for muckraking.
Lucky Guy is writer Ephron’s tribute to her friend Mike McAlary, who began work as a Newsday reporter and later shook up the city with his revelations as a columnist at the New York Daily News and the New York Post. A few months before dying of cancer, he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the horrific torture by police of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant sodomized with a plunger in a police headquarters men’s bathroom. Ephron herself died of cancer while still working on the script, and the play coruscates with her love for both her friend and for the crazed and tainted newspaper world he inhabited — a world where she, too, once worked. McAlary’s story is told by his colleagues in various newsrooms and after-work hangouts. We hear from editors who gave him advice — sometimes taken, often ignored — and fixed sloppy early columns to make his work look better than it then was. We hear from the reporters who both respected him and envied his eventual success. And we see him at home with his wife, Alice; along with their children, she always comes second to his career.
Lucky Guy is an admiring work, but it isn’t empty hagiography. Ephron makes it clear that McAlary could be a blind, insensitive jerk. He overshoots. He antagonizes fellow workers. He becomes obsessed with money and hires Eddie Hayes — a lawyer who represents, among others, organized-crime figures and crooked cops, and whose catchphrase “I can get ya outta anything” is repeated affectionately several times — to negotiate for raises and perks.
I can’t imagine anyone better suited to directing this play than Ashton, whose bio includes stints as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post and Westword, and the Edge is the perfect venue: The intimate auditorium makes you feel like part of the action. The cast does very well at bringing these long-ago newspapermen to life, with particularly strong performances from Dwayne Carrington as the patient and often wise editor Hap Hairston; Wade Livingston as a thoughtful John Cotter; Tupper Cullum, whose Michael Daly exudes the requisite weary, seen-it-all air; and Kevin Hart as sharp-talking, slick-dressing Eddie Hayes. Abbie Apple Boes gives a distinct and empathetic personality to Alice, who might otherwise come across as too saintly. But ultimately, everything rests on the shoulders of Andrew Uhlenhopp, who plays McAlary with passion and a vibrating intensity.
You hear a lot these days about what we’re losing as serious investigative journalism becomes vanishingly rare. What Lucky Guy supplies is the raw, bleeding reality of this loss: the idea of the journalist, no matter how mucky and imperfect he or she may be, sallying forth day after day to expose evil and corruption and give voice and help to the powerless.
Presented by the Edge Theater through July 5, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood,303-232-0363. theedgetheater.com.