On the one hand, Lucky Guy seems like a strange thing to have been written by the late Nora Ephron. It's a play, for one thing; it's about tabloid journalism in New York in the 1980s; it centers around a very hard drinking, Irish-American columnist named Mike McAlary, who won a Pulitzer Prize after some very public career ups and downs; it has no love story (a la Sleepless in Seattle), no sisterhood of wise cracking women (ditto, plus You've Got Mail, plus the fact of Ephron's three writer sisters in real life); no whimsy (unless you count the little bit of singing Lucky Guy's characters do in their many bars); it has no happy ending. And yet the play "“- which runs on Broadway through June 16 "“- turns out to be as Ephronesque as it could be, as longtime fans of the author/screenwriter will note.
Ephron was once a journalist for The New York Post, one of the tabloids that also employed McAlary, albeit in a different era. It's about writers and their sometimes blind ambitions (see characters throughout Ephron's oeuvre, and the fact that she was famously married to Carl "Watergate" Bernstein, as well as journalists Dan Greenberg and Nick Pileggi). And yes it's a play -"“ but so was Love, Loss and What I Wore, which Ephron and her sister Delia adapted from a charming novel. It's also -- most lovingly, if in a slightly sharper, more masculine way -- about New York, Ephron's longtime hometown, the setting for most of her writings, and a character in itself. And it stars Tom Hanks as McAlary; Hanks, as you recall, was in Sleepless, and was one of Ephron's good friends.
But even more than all that, there are lines and bits in this play that are vintage Nora, that display her unerring ear for dialogue. (One of my favorites: Eddie Hayes, the celebrity lawyer/operator who handles McAlary's career , brags he can get McAlary so much money that he could buy a house that "could have six kids" in it. "Eight, if they aren't too big." And, as one of McAlary's frenemies proclaims, McAlary is "a two-bit hack who got [Jimmy] Breslin's slot but not his talent."
Still, the word that comes to mind most throughout Lucky Guy is "legendary." In a couple of dozen short scenes, Ephron manages to evoke a whole world that might have been small, in that it took up only a little time and space, but that lives large in its own legend. It's only the reporters onstage, but they remind us of so many other people and places of the time: Donald Trump as he's divorcing Ivana, Elaine's (now defunct) restaurant, The Lion's Head (the writers' bar), Joey Buttafuocco, Rudy Giuliani, McAlary himself. Writing about legends, of course, should come as no surprise, since Ephron was and has, since her death last June, become pretty legendary herself.
If you can't get to the Broadhurst theater by June 16, console yourself with some of other Ephron's great writing: Wallflower at the Orgy (written close to the time of the events in the play); Heartburn; I feel Bad About My Neck; I Remember Nothing; and Scribble Scribble (which is expected to be reissued this fall).