By Harry Haun
02 Apr 2013

Peter Scolari
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Peter Scolari did venture forth to meet his real-life counterpart, columnist Michael Daly. “He’s a very principled person,” Scolari said. “In the play, the story happens around all of us, and then we have to get through it. I love that this is a story so personal, so human, that no one gets to finish telling the story. For Michael Daly, there’s an acceptance he has of McAlary because McAlary was a complicated guy.”

Rehearsals were a joy, he said. “George really creates a lot of areas for actors. ‘Hey, have a go at this area, look at these personal values, ask these questions, fulfill something for me here in this text, and I don’t know what it is.’ It’s a George Wolfe Conundrum. ‘I don’t know what I want you to get done. Do something. You’re an actor. Be interesting.’”

Courtney B. Vance, no stranger to newspaper sagas (he and his wife, Angela Bassett, did a John Guare adaptation of “His Girl Friday” at the Guthrie), plays McAlary’s favorite (indeed, indispensible) editor, Hap Hairston. “It was a very, very contested relationship,” he said, “but they needed each other. When they were apart from each other, McAlary’s work wasn’t as good. Hap wouldn’t let him get away with stuff.”

Lucky Guy’s lead producer and prime mover, Colin Callender, first encountered the script when he was an executive at HBO. “Nora brought it to me as a film, and we could never make it because we couldn’t cast it,” he recalled. “Then, when I left HBO and I knew I wanted to produce theatre, I called her, and I said, ‘I think this could be a play.’ She said, ‘I dunno. I have to think about it,’ and two weeks later, she called me and said, ‘I’ve written it.’ So it’s taken that journey from then till now.”

The choice of director was obvious to them. “We wanted George from the beginning, but he was not available at first. When he was, we did a reading with Tom in January of last year. Tom loved the experience and he had great confidence in George.”

Ephron’s death did not derail the project. “Nora and I have spent so much time together with George that she’s been here every step of the way—and she was in the theatre tonight. I’ve never doubted for a minute that she’s been part of this process.”

Director Wolfe found the play hard to resist. “I love that it’s about New York, a kind of tribalism here. I love it’s about the mad ambition it takes to accomplish anything in the city and the grace you discover about yourself at certain times in your life.”

The pivotal moment in the play is a terse, tense two-page scene in which McAlary interviews Abner Louima, the immigrant brutally sodomized with a toilet plunger by police, gathering the story that will win him the Pulitzer, and Stephen Tyrone Williams plays it beautifully to a hushed house. “You have these moments in a place where everything stops—no one speaks—no one moves on stage or in the audience. To me, it feels like a shared experience. All these different people are sharing the same moment. For that one moment, we’re all on the same page. It feels electric!”

Williams did not actually meet Louima, but he didn’t stint on researching the role. “It’s like putting together eyewitness accounts and police affidavits,” he explained, “then coming up—because there are several versions of what happened—something I felt was plausible of what actually happened. That was my ride into it, and George was very nuanced and very sensitive. He set up a rehearsal room where I felt safe. I’m a benefactor of all the work that the cast has done from the beginning of the show. I’m the lucky guy who gets to be in the scene that’s the pay-off.”