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TWO VIEWS OF "LOBBY HERO"
No Heroes in “Lobby Hero”
Directed by Trip Cullman
240 West 44th Street
Opened March 26, 2018
Tues. & Thurs. at 7pm. Wed. Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed, & Sat. at 2pm, Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $99-$169, www.telecharge.com
Closes May 13, 2018
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 3, 2018
Photo by Mark Seliger.
It hardly seems possible that a play about murder, rape and police corruption could be even remotely amusing. Yet, in many ways, Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” might be the funniest show on Broadway this season.
This is partly due to Lonergan’s crisp writing. But even more, it’s thanks to the over-the-top cast directed by the equally brilliant Trip Cullman. And speaking of brilliance, let’s not forget David Rockwell’s revolving set that allows the audience see both inside and outside the lobby of this Manhattan apartment building.
Michael Cera is Jeff, the 29-year-old who lives with his brother, having managed to gamble away thousand of dollars after getting himself kicked out of the Navy. Cera, hands in pockets, shoulders stooped, is the quintessential passive/aggressive. We’re never quite sure whether Jeff is callow or clever, naive or conniving.
His supervisor, William (Brian Tyree Henry), is one of those black men trying to escape the poverty he’s grown up with. He’s got a family and a job he takes very seriously in the hope of advancement.
It’s no wonder Jeff looks up to William. The bulky Henry oozes decency under trying conditions. When he finds out his brother has committed a heinous crime, he is torn between love of family and his desire to remain a law-abiding citizen, even though he knows the law does not serve people like him and his brother.
Lonergan’s play does not flatter the police who uphold that law. Bill (Chris Evans) cheats on his wife... and his partner, Dawn (Bel Powley), the rookie cops who thinks she’s the other woman. Evans is so successful in his duplicity at times he almost convinces us he really cares about Dawn, until his narcissism turns into abuse.
Much as we might want to empathize with Dawn, Powley’s perpetual pout works against an outpouring of sympathy. In fact, Powley delivers some of the funniest lines. But at a time when the abuse of women is so much in the news, we dare not dismiss the very real danger Bill keeps her in.
In fact, maybe it’s that pout that makes Jeff find Dawn so attractive. Or maybe it’s just that he like women in uniforms. Or perhaps he’s drawn by that air of vulnerability Bill knows how to turn to his advantage so well.
The one thing all these characters have in common is their love of talk. They just can’t keep their mouths shut. As a result they are constantly digging themselves into a hole, putting others in difficult positions or simply revealing what would better be kept hidden. Sometimes this is funny. Until it gets sad.
“Lobby Hero” premiered at Playwrights Horizons on March 13, 2001, closed a month later and in May, reopened at the John Houseman Theater, where it ran until Sept. 2. Seventeen years ago, a play introducing the audience to inept and unethical cops might not have resonated as strongly as it does in this time of the the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements. Indeed, these are more cynical times. Our illusions have been shattered and we are prepared to believe. [ps]
Written by Kenneth Lonergan; directed by Trip Cullman.
Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street.
(212) 239-6200. https://2st.com/shows/current-production/lobby-hero
Opened March 26, 2018, closes May 13, 2018.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar March 29,2018.
Brian Tree Henry as William, Beth Powley as Dawn, Michael Cera as Jeff, Chris Evans as Bill. Photo by Joan Marcus.
In Kenneth Lonergan’s smart, serious, funny morality tale of the big city, a cop angling for a promotion visits a hooker in a high rise while his newbie female partner waits below, a clueless young security guard in the lobby has a propensity to blather, and his supervisor has a crisis when his brother is implicated in a killing,
The “hero” is the one who can’t help telling the truth.
First, I have to say that the cops, Bill (Chris Evans) and Dawn (the chirpy Bel Powley) have brilliant exaggerated New York accents. It’s not clear why security guard supervisor William (Brian Tyree Henry) and guard Jeff (Michael Cera) don’t. Unless it’s an inside joke.
All takes place in a high-rise lobby with a counter and goose-neck lamp and an elevator, with floors marked by changing lit numbers. Your eyes are on the numbers when you think officer Bill may be coming down from his assignation with Mrs. Heinvald in 22-J.
Michael Cera as Jeff, Brian Tree Henry as William. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The morality challenge is how the very straight William, who is rigid about procedures, caves to family interests and agrees to give an alibi to his brother, who may be implicated in raping and killing a nurse in an attempted theft of drugs from a hospital.
What does Jeff do when the boss rather foolishly lets him know?
And what does Dawn do when Bill, who is breaking all the rules by visiting a hooker, is the only one who can testify to the fact that she smashed a guy over the head when the 500-pounder (maybe less, but that’s how she remembers it) was rushing to attack her? He will lose an eye.
Beth Powley as Dawn, Michael Cera as Jeff. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Bill lets her know that quid-pro-quo means Dawn keeps quiet about Mrs. Heinvald. But he also demands that she be “nice” to him.
“Isn’t that sexual harassment,” Jeff asks.
“No, I think it’s called rape,” she says.
He wonders, “How are you supposed to know if you’re right and everybody else is wrong. Or if you are wrecking your own chances?”
That’s where we get to “hero.”
Brian Tree Henry as William, Chris Evans as Bill. Photo by Joan Marcus.
I also wondered why the cop Bill and the security guard William have almost the same name. Does it mean that there but for a change in uniform—or race (William is black)– goes the other?
In this terrific ensemble cast, Brian Tyree Henry is a perfect conflicted supervisor, a straight arrow who insists everything be according to book, but folds when confronted what could happen to his brother in a justice system that chews up blacks.
Chris Evans makes Bill almost a caricature of the cop who believes he can/should game the system. Beth Powley is a charmer as the young novice officer who really believes in justice. And Michael Cera is perfect as the guy who can’t help doing right even if it isn’t good for him.
Director Trip Cullman takes it all up a few floors from the police sit-com you might see on TV. First produced in 2001, this play is of the moment.
Visit Lucy’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com
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