Broadway Review: “Lobby Hero” Crackles the Conscience at Second Stage’s Hayes Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Lobby Hero” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I just don’t want to be one of those pathetic guys in lobbies who are always telling you about their big plans you know they’re never gonna do. I’d rather just be in the lobby and just be in the lobby. To tell you the truth, sometimes I feel like I was worn out the minute I was born.” – Jeff to Dawn

Some might describe security guard Jeff (played with a disarming ambivalence by Michael Cera) as a loser. That would be somewhat inaccurate, however. Jeff is more the embodiment of the anti-hero than the typical loser unawares. To get what he wants, in this case rookie New York City cop Dawn (played with a cunning charm by Bel Powley), Jim is willing to eschew following his moral compass and disregard the qualities of the classic hero: loyalty; bravery; humility; wisdom; and virtue. How Jeff navigates the terrain of principles and values under pressure is the engaging “stuff” of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” currently in revival at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater.

Jeff has not had much luck in his short life: his overbearing Navy father stops talking to him when Jim is discharged from the Navy for drug use; his father dies; he is stalked by the loan sharks he borrowed money from to play poker; he owes his brother Marty five-thousand dollars; his girlfriend is a prostitute “on the side;” and he cannot afford his own apartment and lives with his brother. As we meet Jeff in the first scene of “Lobby Hero,” he has scored a job as a security guard at an apartment building and under the strict tutelage of his supervisor William (played with a well-earned bravado by Brian Tyree Henry), who hired him, Jeff is trying to get his life together and get back on track to adulthood. This quest quickly goes off track when Jeff’s love interest shows up in the lobby with her partner uber-cop Bill (here a diabolically charming Chris Evans) whose visit to Room 22J unhinges the lid to Pandora’s Box.

William is hard on Jeff, but it is something William shares with Jeff that threatens to impede his progress and throw the denizens of the lobby into chaos. William’s bother has been arrested for “going into a hospital to steal pharmaceutical drugs” and participating in the murder of a nurse. To avoid prosecution, his brother claims he was with William at the time of the murder. In a series of events that unfold with clockwork precision – all revolving around Jeff’s obsession with Dawn – William’s brother’s alibi becomes suspect and loyalties are challenged and what is true and what is false becomes blurred as moral ambiguity rattles the rigors of heroism.

“Lobby Hero” raises rich and enduring questions. What is loyalty and how does one earn another’s loyalty? How much of one’s present can be determined by past events? Can one go through life blaming one’s past for the mistakes made in the present? What is a lie and is it ever acceptable to tell a lie? Dawn tells Bill, “don’t expect me to sit down here and cover for you when the dispatcher wants to know where you went. I signed up to be a cop, not lookout patrol at the whorehouse.” Is it “right” for police officers to cover for one another to avoid reprimand or removal?

Under Trip Cullman’s discerning and originative direction, the action moves carefully from scene to scene with the tension created by the unfolding conflicts of the characters driving an engaging and carefully developed plot. David Rockwell’s slowly revolving set allows not only for the passing of time but also discloses the variety of points of view that make Kenneth Lonergan’s script so gripping and transparent. “Lobby Hero” remains exceedingly relevant in this time of American politics where cries of “fake news” and an abundance duplicity threaten the foundations of constitutional law and the very halls and chambers of justice.