By ALAN SMASON, Theatre Critic, WYES-TV (“Steppin’ Out“)
Kenneth Lonergan recently received an Academy Award for his screenplay of “Manchester by the Sea,” a dark and depressing tale that produced an Oscar winning performance by Casey Affleck.
Lonergan seems to excel in writing about depressing people in dismal places, people who have a glimmer of salvation, but who find themselves on the dung heap of humanity where Dante’s admonition of “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” seems somehow more appropriate than “I think I can. I think I can.”
In two limited runs in 2001, Lonergan’s Lobby Hero played for a total of five months off-Broadway – the first for one month and the other for four months – at two theaters, ending its second production at the John Houseman Theatre just nine days prior to 9/11.
The four-person cast set almost entirely in a Manhattan apartment building lobby concerns the hapless security guard Jeff (Patrick Hunter), his punctilious supervisor William (Thaddeus McCants) and two cops, veteran Bill (Garrett Prejean) and rookie Dawn (Kristin Shoffner), who are investigating a recent rape and murder.
Lonergan employs a number of key scenes between two of the principals at a time. The dynamics of all four characters in a scene is a rarity and so much of the dialog and action is determined by the outcome of these scenes, which then pivot on other two-person scenes.
Early on, Jeff and William’s strained relationship is established. Jeff has been drummed out of the Navy, which led to his disappointed Navy hero father’s depression and demise. Jeff is a schlub, a ne’er do well who tries, but is never able to catch the brass ring on the carousel of life. He is working the midnight shift, because that’s really all he aspires to. He lives with a brother,who has rescued him from loan sharks, but in nine months of work as a security guard, he still has not paid him back and can barely afford a place to call his own.
And as to a girlfriend? Well, that’s clearly impossible, given his shy and awkward manner. With so much time to kill in the lobby during his night shift, Jeff’s fertile imagination takes over in ways that border on the likely improper and the very unlikely. The object of his attention is Dawn, who is fixated on her egocentric and sexist partner.
When Jeff confides his secret desire to his supervisor, William is offput. He wants to know if Dawn or her partner Bill have made any inquiries of him. Thus, Lonergan begins to construct an elaborate tale in which a police investigation into a recent horrific rape and murder of a nurse appears to involve William’s brother. Named as an alibi witness, William must decide whether to maintain his credibility as a straight-laced proponent of the law and refute the alibi. or, protect his brother by lying to the police.
Jeff awkwardly reveals his attraction to the rookie officer, who at first is repulsed by him. When Bill’s trysts with a female resident of the building are revealed, it becomes obvious that she feels betrayed by her partner and more than she would were it just about his lying. As Bill, Prejean turns in a performance as a cad, a rounder and a chauvinist. He is without redemption and is only concerned about himself or how he might be perceived by his fellow police peers.
Director Mike Harkins allows Lonergan’s script to guide the action without too heavy a hand. As a result, the motivations of the players are determined by Lonergan’s dialog, which in can sometimes in Jeff’s case involve a series of long, rambling monologues about his unhappy life. It is apparent that Jeff wants to be accepted and is susceptible to being played by others. This trait is at the core of what moves much of the tension along as well.
The play between the hapless security guard and the rookie female police officer runs counterpoint to that between her and the veteran police officer. As one relationship grows, the other diminishes. Eventually, the dynamic between the two partners changes as the teacher becomes instructed by the pupil.
This well-cast play has just one more weekend to its short run, but the performances are truly worth seeing. Shoffner and McCants do double duty working with Ryan Decker to create the effective stage lighting, while Patrick Hunter’s set is beautifully constructed with Harkins classic sound design. Also of note are Anthony French’s simple, yet authentic costume designs.
Recently, it was announced that Chris Evans (“Captain America”) and Michael Cera (“Juno”) will star in the first Broadway cast of Lobby Hero slated to open in the soon-t0-be renovated Helen Hayes Theatre in March of 2018.
Lobby Hero is seen at the Lab Theater in the Performing Arts Center of the University of New Orleans. Shows run at 8:00 p.m. June 29 – July 1. Matinee on Sunday, July 2 is at 2:00 p.m. For tickets click here or call 504-282-SHOW.