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Lobby Hero

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors


The Iceman Cometh
Chris Evans and Michael Cera star in the Broadway revival of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero. Photo: Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

Wrapped in hard-boiled dialogue and more laughs than you'd expect, Lobby Hero, Kenneth Lonergan's exploration of sexual and racial discrimination, the legal system, and pondering ideals versus rules are as relevant today as it was in its 2001 premiere. In Second Stage's Broadway inauguration at the Hayes Theater, a snappy first-rate cast copes with the pressures of real life and flawed people within the lobby of a grade-D apartment building.

Director Trip Cullman leads us through several nights of four characters forced to face life-changing decisions. Michael Cera nails the part of goofy Jeff, a talky security guard who desperately tries to hang on to his job after a lifetime of goof-ups. His supervisor, William, played with nuanced exasperation by Brian Tyree Henry, stops in to check up on Jeff, making sure he is not sleeping on the job, as has been rumored. William is a man of principles, by the book, a gruff mentor to Jeff who, fists shoved his in his pockets, swears he is ever alert on the job.

Completing the cast are the two beat cops. The role of Bill is made-to-order for Chris Evans (The Avengers’ Captain Marvel). With macho assurance, Bill strides nonchalantly past Jeff's sign-in desk on his way upstairs for his regular visit to a lady friend in apartment 22-J. He intimidates Jeff. He also overawes his young rookie partner, Dawn (Bel Powley), who is trying her best appear tough and ready, sometimes to the extreme and getting herself in trouble. Dawn admires Bill and his reputation as a cop but resents his arrogance toward women and eventually toward her. She is put off when he leaves her to wait in the lobby while he visits upstairs without explanation.

Meanwhile William, although well aware of Jeff's unreliability, is shaken when his younger brother is arrested for murder and robbery and pleads to William to offer an alibi. William admits his struggle with the dilemma of helping his brother or obeying his own ethical code, and Jeff promises to keep his secret. Ironically he finds himself the gatekeeper of various intertwined secrets and handling discretions and secrets is not Jeff's strong point.

Lonergan, acclaimed for the film, Manchester by the Sea, writes dialogue as realistic with stress and pitch as if it were overheard on the street. The cast is perfect with Lonergan-talk. Michael Cera expresses Jeff's verbose revelations of his layers of simple desires just as Evans is authoritative as the egotistic Bill. Henry stands out with William's tragic dignity. Powley communicates a sympathy in Dawn that she will never gain from the male-dominated police force.

There is humor and compassion in these intensely human dilemmas and Cullman directs the four characters like chess pieces, letting relationships slip and slide as one or the other gains power, uses it and then loses it.

On the status ladder, it is obvious that police authority stands above security men, who are viewed as wannabe cops. Costume designer Paloma Young even dresses the security uniforms in ersatz police garb. David Rockwell cleverly designed a revolving stage offering different views of the characters in the lobby. At times, he highlights the characters just outside the building and with Japhy Weideman's lighting, the stage presents a drab lobby and the night's city streets.

The struggle is intense, distinguishing what one should do against what one wants to do. In Lobby Hero, the inquiry by Lonergan and his actors come at us with sharp, sad and hilarious humanity before we even realize how relevant these questions are.


Lobby Hero

Helen Hayes Theatre
240 - West 44 Street, NYC
Previews: Mar. 1, 2018. Opening: Mar. 26, 2018. Closing: May. 13, 20187
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. One intermission.
Cast: Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley
Playwright: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Trip Cullman
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
April 2018

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