Scripter Kenneth Lonergan is making his mark simultaneously on stage (Pulitzer Prize runner-up for “Waverly Gallery”) and screen (Oscar noms for “You Can Count on Me,” “Gangs of New York”). His well-structured four-character dramedy “Lobby Hero,” which received the 2000 Outer Critics Circle Best Play Award, amply demonstrates that Lonergan is a dynamic voice whose work is as thought- provoking as it is theatrically compelling. He has found a worthy ally in helmer Kenneth Alan Williams, who expertly guides a talented ensemble through the nuances and intricacies of Lonergan’s deceptively offhanded dialogue.
At its core, “Lobby Hero” is a morality play. As life-challenged city dwellers struggle to maintain their emotional equilibrium, Lonergan explores the nature of truth, falsehood and the ever-shifting gray area that lies in between. There is no huge revelation at play’s end. The members of the ensemble simply reveal themselves and their situation. But in the process, characters suffer cathartic pummelings that will forever change their lives.
Set in the lobby of a high-rise building in Manhattan, “Lobby Hero” penetrates the lives of four New Yorkers whose lives collide over the course of four consecutive evenings. Main protag Jeff, played to the feckless hilt by Aaron MacPherson, is an affable goofball, trying to find some stability in his life after being booted out of the Navy for smoking pot while on duty. He is well aware that he is stuck in a nowhere job as the building’s night shift security guard and only half-heartedly kids himself and anyone else who will listen to him that someday he is going to make something of himself by going into advertising.
It is Jeff’s perceived innocence that makes him the recipient of everyone else’s angst-filled revelations. His hyperdisciplined African-American boss William (Darren Law) is distracted because his lowlife brother may be involved in a rape and murder. Local super cop Bill (Scott Cummins) makes nightly visits to the “actress” living in 22J, all the while knowing his on-duty antics could jeopardize his desire to make it to gold shield status (plainclothes detective) on the police force. Meanwhile, Jeff has the hots for Bill’s rookie partner Dawn (Amy Pietz), who has been sleeping with Bill on the side and may face an assault charge for bringing her nightstick down a bit too hard on a rampaging drunk.
Lonergan drives the horns of dilemma deeper into Jeff’s consciousness when he becomes privy to confidential information about William’s brother that could potentially explode over everyone’s lives. After a life of dodging responsibility, Jeff finds himself staring at the glaringly naked moral dilemma of either betraying the confidence of the only man he truly respects or potentially being party to letting a murderer go free. It is Jeff’s eventual confession to Dawn that underscores the play’s fundamental throughline.
MacPherson portrayal of Jeff is superb, offering a captivating balance of utter cluelessness and an innate need to “do the right thing.” Kudos also go out to the rest of the ensemble, who inhabit their roles with impressive veracity. Particularly noteworthy is Pietz’s comically endearing portrayal of hard-edged but totally fragile Dawn.
Special mention must be made of Martin McClendon’s finely detailed set, right down to the carpeting and the double metal doors leading out to the street. It perfectly sets up the claustrophobic environment that permeates the psyche of Jeff and friends.