Review: The Wood
A new bioplay follows a crusading New York columnist.
Mon Sep 19 2011
Photograph: Sandra Coudert
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
It's not good to muse on the alternative work you wish an author had made. But watching The Wood, documentary filmmaker and dramatist Dan Klores's middling bioplay about longtime Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, one can't help thinking he should have chosen film for his story of an ace journalist's redemption. Except for a few key scenes, biographical detours and background info clumsily sandwiched into dialogue—plus a sprawling plot—send the play on a collision course with itself.
McAlary died of colon cancer in 1998, soon after winning a Pulitzer for his coverage of Abner Louima's torture while in police custody. (Four years earlier he'd been slapped with a libel suit for claiming a woman lied about being raped.) Determined and cocksure, the controversial columnist thrived on the adventure and adrenaline rush of his job, even skipping chemo to chase the Louima story and land on "the wood"—reporter slang for the front page. McAlary, played with commanding flair by John Viscardi, and other larger-than-life New Yorkers come vibrantly alive in David Bar Katz's staging, but it's a rather tame and frequently maudlin offering for a venue with the cojones to produce the wilder works of Adam Rapp and Sheila Callaghan.
The most urgent and chilling scenes involve Louima's attack and its aftermath. Bandaged and broken, barely able to talk and clutching a photograph of his baby son, Louima (Vladimir Versailles, in a magnificent Off-Broadway debut) recounts in graphic detail the abuse he suffered at the hands of Justin Volpe (Michael Carlsen), whose denial is equally alarming. The Wood wrings the truth not from its central character but from his subject—who ought to be the most important part of the story.