A “Lucky,” Legendary New Yorker Comes to Little Lake Theatre

June 17, 2015

Who was Mike McAlary?

Maybe you’re thinking “Oh, yeah, him … Mike McAlary” or, more likely, you’re answering with a “Don’t ask me” shrug, and to tell the truth, I never heard of this former sportswriter-turned-tabloid columnist either. That is, until Nora Ephron wrote a play about McAlary, “Lucky Guy,” which had a highly-publicized run on Broadway two years ago.

But where his name really counts, among the distinguished (if rough-edged) Fourth Estate, Mike McAlary was the quintessential New York journalist of his time—a go-getter, a risk taker, a rule breaker, a ball of fire, a man who reported the stories and then, inevitably, lived a life worthy of stories.

When McAlary died in 1998, at age 41, his obituary in The New York Times included this telling line: “Mr. McAlary’s bravado, often expressed with a barroom stridency, made him a host of enemies, and sometimes got him into trouble.”

Yet “Lucky Guy,” which opens June 18 at Little Lake Theatre, was conceived as a tribute not only to one of the most fearless whistle blowers that New York readers ever knew, but also to journalism itself. A young, pre-movie fame Nora Ephron loved the field as much as McAlary did, with no phobias about its deadlines and pressures. There was an excitement, even a magic, she said, about the city room, a place filled with working men and women who had the same brashness and determination that she had. It’s where she wanted to be. Where Mike wanted to be, too.

Jena Oberg jumped at the chance to direct Ephron’s play, and she’s especially drawn to the irony of its title.

“I love what it represents,” she said, adding that “Lucky Guy” isn’t about the role fate played in McAlary’s turbulent life. “Mike was a lucky guy because he realized his purpose, embraced it wholeheartedly and went after it with everything he had.”

Greg Caridi, a longtime favorite at Little Lake, stars as Mike McAlary. Between rehearsals last weekend, the actor talked about his approach to playing the man, flaws and all, behind the byline.

With “Lucky Guy” being based on the true story of Mike McAlary, did you feel compelled to do homework on the real person before you started rehearsing the play?

 I did feel compelled to do research, but I didn’t find too much on him. I wasn’t able to find the information I felt would have really helped me in trying to “get inside him” to portray him. I found a lot of career facts that were already covered in the script.  I’m still not sure if this is incredibly freeing or incredibly restrictive in trying to (re)create him for the production.

What trivia about Mike inspired you or helped breathe life into your performance?

The facts I did find at least told me he was very passionate and driven about his career.

Do you typically do research to prepare for a role …

Typically, not a ton.

… or do you put yourself in the director’s hands and let him or her guide you?

It really depends on the text.  If there is something historical that has an effect on a character or the given circumstances that I need information on, then I try to use any resource available … including the director. But for most (plays), the tone is set in rehearsals. A proper director would be prepared with any information that is needed, or at the very least provide the time for discussion and discovery during rehearsal.

You’ve said that when you first heard about “Lucky Guy” being produced at Little Lake, you didn’t see yourself playing Mike. What was it about him, or the story, that convinced you—after Jena Oberg offered you the role—to go ahead and be part of this production?

I like the play. I just didn’t think I would end up in it. I do like the ensemble feel of it.  It’s a true story; that adds some weight to the storytelling. And I trust Jena’s direction. I knew the production would be in capable hands.

You’ve been acting for a long time now, sometimes in leading roles, sometimes in supporting roles, sometimes as part of an ensemble. What do you look for in a part?  Or are you attracted most of all to the experience of acting in any play, the role itself being somewhat secondary?

I imagine most actors have a bucket list of roles or plays they’d like to do. At this point, I use my initial reaction to a play to judge interest. If I’m not completely passionate or excited to do something, I figure why hinder a production with my apathy? What could I possibly bring to a play if I don’t want to be in it? My interest is in roles or plays that challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone. The next play I want to be in is the last one you would think of me for.

What is it about acting that you enjoy, that keeps you coming back to it?

It’s certainly a creative outlet … and an opportunity to affect people. I think it’s extremely powerful in this day of YouTube watching and texting to capture somebody’s attention for two hours live and in person. The ability to make somebody laugh or cry or think or wonder or even to escape is wonderful. And I appreciate the chance to do that.

I have seen some people who take themselves more seriously than the work and most of the time they aren’t good actors. Good acting and good storytelling are about giving—giving to your fellow actors and giving to the audience. The takers turn the spotlight back on themselves. The givers shine the spotlight on each other and the audience. I’m very interested in continuing to do that.

Also appearing in “Lucky Guy” are Art DeConciliis, Scott Nunnally, Jill Walters, Bruce Crocker, John Reilly, Michael Shahen, Tyson Sears and Renee Kern.

To purchase tickets for the play, which runs through July 3, phone Little Lake’s box office at 724-745-6300, or take advantage of the opportunity to order tickets online at www.littlelake.org.