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Written by Kenneth Lonergan; directed by Trip Cullman
Performances through May 13, 2018
The cast of Lobby Hero (photo: Joan Marcus)
In his plays and film scripts, Kenneth Lonergan maps out a rigorous moral universe which ordinary people, caught up in extraordinary situations, must navigate, from his breakthrough stage work This Is Our Youth to his Oscar-winning masterpiece Manchester by the Sea.
His everyman in Lobby Hero, Jeff, is night security guard/doorman in a sleepy Manhattan apartment building caught up in a dilemma not of his own making when his boss William admits to helping give his brother an alibi for a murder charge. Jeff ends up spilling the beans to Dawn, the attractive rookie cop he talks up while her partner Bill visits a female tenant’s apartment.
Such a plot summary does Lobby Hero a disservice; it sounds like a bad TV sitcom. On the contrary, Lonergan again creates deeply flawed but sympathetic characters, beginning with Jeff, a slacker who discovers his inner strength despite an inclination to disengage from others.
Michael Cera, seemingly doomed to playing losers since Juno, made an inauspicious Broadway debut in the 2014 This Is Our Youth revival, but he fully redeems himself with his amusing but multi-layered Jeff, whose sarcastic attitude is a defense mechanism, not merely Cera’s own self-indulgent eccentricities.
Bill, to be sure, is unrepentantly obnoxious, sexist, racist and arrogant in his dealings with Dawn—whom he has already bedded, to her eternal regret—William and Jeff, but Lonergan allows him a wonderfully vivid speech to explain, self-servingly but truthfully, why Dawn needs him while she’s learning the ropes:
Somebody runs up to her and asks her to help 'em she's not gonna help 'em, she's gonna look around and say, "Where's Bill? Where's Bill?"—That's me: I'm Bill. Now, I could tell that girl likes me. It's only natural. I'm her partner, I'm a big strong father figure, whatever, gotta lot of experience, gotta lotta confidence, I know what I'm fuckin' doin'—and that's attractive to a woman, it's attractive to anybody. So she's attracted to me. That's OK. She's human. I'm human. But maybe part of what I'm doin', part of buildin' her confidence is makin' her feel like I'm interested in her too. Maybe that makes her feel impressive. Makes her feel cocky, makes her feel like she's got something on the ball. Makes her feel like she's really a cop.
As Bill, Chris Evans hits all the right notes in a portrayal that’s not overly broad; a glimpse of humanity even peeks through at times. Similarly—despite opportunities for caricature—William and Dawn are enacted with restraint by Brian Tyree Henry and Bel Powley: Powley’s exaggerated New Yawk accent deepens, rather than cheapens, her performance, as does Henry’s splendid deadpan.
Lonergan, of course, provides rich humor while illustrating these quotidian lives. Trip Cullman directs persuasively on David Rockwell’s cleverly mobile set, whose shifting perspectives on these goings-on perfectly illuminate their complexity. (The original off-Broadway production, however brilliantly acted, made do with a cramped set.)
Lobby Hero might be narrow in focus, but it’s another masterly character study from one of our most perceptive and incisive artists.
Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY
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