Cliched, simplistic and creakily old-fashioned, “The Wood,” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, nonetheless has the guts and gumption to keep you hooked to its timeworn tale of a newspaperman who’ll do anything for a story. The journalist in question, about whom playwright Dan Klores has taken some creative liberties, is real-life reporter Mike McAlary, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for breaking the Abner Louima story in 1997 while grappling with cancer.

John Viscardi’s performance as McAlary is straightforward, which is what makes the production work. As written, McAlary is a bit of a martyr on the altar of journalism, who cavalierly misses chemotherapy sessions to chase stories. And of course he has a gruff exterior with a heart of gold. But Viscardi somehow finds a believable core to this hackneyed character, not quite underplaying but never overplaying either.

By the time the second act rolls around, we’re fully immersed in the Louima story, an episode that’s so gripping it carries the play without even trying. Louima was a Haitian immigrant picked up by the police and sodomized with a plunger handle at the stationhouse. Vladimir Versailles deftly conveys his terror and his pain, and the interaction between him and Viscardi is compelling.

“The Wood” can seem cloyingly familiar, but its passion is genuine and the tale it tells is solid.

 
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