Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero is a rare work that is, at once, a drama, a comedy, a romance, a mystery, and a modern morality play. It is an outstanding work that makes for equally outstanding theatre in 1st Stage’s excellent production.
The title refers to a 27 year-old security guard named Jeff (Aaron Bliden) who works in the lobby of a New York apartment building. He’s a talkative slacker stuck in a dead-end job while he tries to figure out how to get his life together. His ambitious supervisor William (Justin Weaks) is full of advice and has even given Jeff a self-improvement book that Jeff hasn’t gotten around to reading.
Complications arise when William’s brother is charged with a serious crime and names William as someone who can support his false alibi. Then a veteran police officer name Bill (Matthew Sparacino) and his rookie partner Dawn (Laura Artesi) become involved with the two.
Bill is a confident but flawed officer who operates by his own set of rules that place friendship and backing your partner above the law. Dawn is initially worshipful of Bill, who has helped pave the way for her in a hostile and male-dominated department, but her admiration starts to fade as she learns more about his true nature.
Lobby Hero offers a masterful look at the challenges of situational ethics through the eyes of well-drawn characters. Should it matter to William in deciding whether to lie for his brother that the brother’s overworked defender is unlikely to offer effective representation and his African American brother may get railroaded into a harsh sentence?
A play in which characters search for understanding of what the right thing to do is interesting enough. Lobby Hero takes matters one step further in also asking whether the characters are taking actions for the right reasons. For example, is Jeff inclined to come forward with his knowledge that the alibi is false because the crime is serious and he wants to make a difference, or is he tempted to do so to impress Dawn, the object of his affections?
Lobby Hero was first performed in 2000 (and is meant to reflect that period before cell phones and widespread use of video cameras despite a mistake in the program describing the setting as in the present). Yet the issues it raises are ones we’re grappling with now: about effective policing, the impact of race and gender, and the importance of telling the truth.
Everything about the 1st Stage production of Lobby Hero is top-notch. Alex Levy sensitively focuses on the nuances of conflicted characters to keep the ethical issues believable. Kathryn Kawecki’s faux marble lobby is both grand and shadowy in keeping with the moral complexity of the story. The ensemble cast gives subtle and convincing performances.
Extended! closes October 16, 2019
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Aaron Bliden presents a heightened version of the character Jeff, perhaps more intelligent and forthright than found in the script, but it makes for compelling theatre. Jeff is a glib but genuinely lost soul who is seeking independence and human connection.
The other three terrific performances are all firmly rooted in realism as they try to rationalize their behavior. Justin Weaks shows William as a man who normally adheres to a strict personal code, but who is put into a difficult situation not of his own choosing.
Dawn has to weigh whether a pre-opening incident in which she seriously injured a drunken assailant was proper policing and what personal consequences she faces in the department if she fails to support her partner’s own wrongful behavior. Laura Artesi is brilliant in showing her characters shaky insecurities, including those involved in her feelings for her partner.
Even Bill, a cad and a bit of a villain in the story, is a decorated copy who can argue that his style is part of the thin blue line that protects police lives and society. Matthew Sparacino really gets inside the head of his character and commits to a convincing portrayal of an imperfect old school cop.
The ability of Lobby Hero to raise ethical questions through compelling characters is similar to John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, another four-character play which also received an outstanding staging from 1st Stage last season. 1st Stage’s exceptional production of Lobby Hero is likely to stay in your mind and provoke discussion long after leaving the theatre.
Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan. Directed by Alex Levy. Featuring Aaron Bliden, Justin Weaks, Matthew Sparacino, and Laura Artesi. Set & Costume Design: Kathryn Kawecki. Lighting Design: Mary Keegan. Sound Design: Neil McFadden. Props Design: Cindy Landrum Jacobs. Stage Manager: Allison Poms. Dialogue Consultant: Jane Margulies Kalbfeld. Technical Director: Jose Abraham. Presented by 1st Stage. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.