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A CurtainUp Review
Lobby Hero

I just don't want to be one of those pathetic guys in lobbies who are always telling you about their big plans to do some kind of shit you know Goddamn well they're never gonna do. I'd rather just be in the lobby. To tell you the truth, sometimes I feel like I was worn out the minute I was born.
— Jeff, but with the rookie cop Dawn now firmly on his side tells him not to say that about himself, as her own less than successful trial period on the force has her wondering "How are you supposed to know if you're right and everybody else is wrong, or if you're just wrecking your own chances?
lobby hero
Chris Evans and Michael Cera (Photo by Joan Marcus)
One of New York's most popular not-for-profit Off-Broadway theater companies, the Second Stage Company, now also has a Broadway presence. Their new home is the newly named and handsomely refurbished Hayes Theater (It used to be the Helen Hayes, and was also known as The Little Theater because, unlike Broadway's much larger venues, it had a just under 600-seat capacity). Their first production is one of my favorite Kenneth Lonergan plays, Lobby Hero.

While Lobby Hero premiered to great acclaim at Playwrights Horizon in 2001 the economics of Broadway made it easier to fill the seats of a big Broadway house with musicals and revivals than the work of a new young playwright. Fortunately, Broadway's loss proved to be regional theater organizations' gain and the play continued to win new admirers. When, I saw Lobby Hero at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires just two years later I enjoyed it as much as I did the original.

But a lot of years have gone by, so is a play set in New York City around 1999 likely to come off a bit dated? Do Lonergan's likable but loopy losers and their intertwined moral dilemmas still keep an audience absorbed in their count-counterpoint, interchanges? And, with even Neil Simon once the king of comedy on Broadway no longer resonating with contemporary audiences, will Lonergan's humor still work? The answer a decided yes on both counts.

Thanks to Trip Cullman's firm direction of a top-to-bottom on the mark cast and the top-of-the-line production values, Lobby Hero is an ever engaging and funny addition to the Broadway season.

While the story and much of the dialogue have remained entrenched in my memory, I didn't have a moment's sense of been there, done that watching it yet again. In fact, the plot points in this vis-a-vis sexual harassment, bullying, racism and injustices in the justice system could have been written yesterday.

And Lonergan is so adept at creating characters who bring life in the screw-up lane to natural and vivid life in a lingo that, like Mamet-speak, deserve a place in the theatrical lexicon as Lonerganesque and to tuck his laugh lines into a thought-provoking morality play about four uniformed characters — two employed by a private security firm, and two members of the NYPD.

While this is very much an ensemble piece, the focal character is the twenty-something Jeff (Michael Cera), the guardian of the lobby. He's got a lot in common with Warren, the bumbling late teen also played by Cera in the 2014 revival of This Is Our Youth, as well as Terry in the film You Can Count On Me. His Jeff is a typical Lonergan guy, a magnet for trouble that's not monumental, but enough so to have him teetering on the brink of permanent screw-up status.

The well-meaning, Jeff is at first glance the sort of nebbishy guy you'd hardly call a hero; and yet, courtesy of Lonergan's talent for characterization and Cera's ability to be hilarious even without saying anything. The way Cera tap's into Jeff's wistful yearning for stability underneath his goofy persona has us rooting for him to get his life together —, and maybe actually hook up with the play's only female character, Dawn (Bel Powley).

The same is true for the rest of the ensemble as they create a nicely texture group portrait in interchanges that evolve like a chamber concert's duets, trios and an occasional quartet.

The play cleverly pairs the foursome so that there's the tension of one-upmanship in each pairing: Jeff is coupled with William the captain of the security staff (Bryan Tyree Henry, a most effective uptight straight man to the more relaxed Jeff). The self-assured, macho not-so-good NYPD veteran Bill (An impressive Broadway debut by Chris Evans, Marvel Comics' Captain America) is partnered up with Jeff's self-destructive counterpart, rookie cop Dawn (a feisty Bel Powley). While all these conversations may sound like more talk than action, the plot is charged by the alternating currents of these very human configurations.

The first four scenes, establish the characters and set up the complications to follow at a rat-a-tat pace. Jeff hasn't been on the job (or any job) for very long and tends to make jokes and needle William. ("Isn't it stupid that you're the Captain when there are no other ranks?"). William is a straight arrow who dresses Jeff down for his tendency to be lax about company rules. But because he's anxious about his less upstanding brother who's currently in serious trouble with the law William confides in Jeff even as he urges him to take his job more seriously.

No sooner is the law mentioned than we meet the NYPD couple. Chis Evans, who's terrific as the macho cop who's not averse to breaking rules. This includes seducing his junior partner and then letting her cool her heels in the lobby while he visits a friend named Jim who turns out to be a lady. Bill is the play's nominal villain, but being a Lonergan villain he has his good side as demonstrated by his helping William to protect his brother from the consequences of a criminal investigation. While Jeff sees him as "a complete scumbag" he also admits to a certain envy for the way he "lives on the edge."

Having Dawn enamored of Bill, at least initially, doesn't keep our Lobby Hero from making a move on her ("Hey, look: You're wearin' a uniform and I'm wearin' a uniform. . .let's get together").

Since the plot development have to be seen to be fully appreciated, I'll say no more than this: Despite acting in ways resulting in unintended consequences neither Dawn nor Jeff are pushovers; and everything that happens is inextricably tied to the moral dilemmas posed by the murder investigation in which William's brother is involved.

The few somewhat too long and obviously geared to making a point scenes are hardly cause enough to keep you from seeing this enjoyable stylishly staged revival. Though Lobby Hero worked well without the present production's super razzle-dazzle technology. Yet the turntable set by David Rockwell, whose organization is responsible for the theater's handsome twenty-two million dollar retooling, is very effective and provides a nice Broadway gloss.

Links to Lonergan play and movie reviews at Curtainup:
This is Our Youth
The Waverly Gallery
The Starry Messenger
Medieval Play
Hold On To Me Darling
Films Margaret
Manchaester by The Seas

Search CurtainUp in the box below Back to Curtainup Main Page

Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan
Directed By Trip Cullman Cast: Michael Cera (Jeff), Chris Evans (Bill), Brian Tyree Henry (William), Bel Powley (Dawn).
Scenic design by David Rockwell
Vostume design by Paloma Young
Lighting design by Japhy Weideman
Sound design by Darron L. West
Stage Manager: Kelly Levy
Running Time: Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes including intermission
2nd Stage at the Hayes Theater
From 3/01/18; opening 3/26/18; closing 5/13/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 3/29 press performanc

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