If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of those apartment buildings with a decent sized lobby, chances are you’ve come across the characters who populate Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero currently running at The Gloria Maddox Theatre. At first glance there’s nothing special about this lobby. Neat, a bit shabby, in need of a coat of paint and some new furniture, it’s maintained by the security officer who sits behind the desk there.
Who is that guy? The one asking your guests to sign in, accepting your packages for you, holding the door open for you when your hands are full? What’s his story? Unless you’ve had more than a perfunctory interaction with your lobby security guard chances are it would be as disconcerting to run into him out of uniform as it was for you when, as a child, you saw your teacher in the grocery story. Yet you know he must have a life when he’s not in uniform, right?
What’s his name again? This lobby’s hero is named Jeff. Jeff (a natural, solid Michael Black) is working the graveyard shift and seems friendly enough; affable if a bit plain. But he’s as ubiquitous to us as any other guy who sits in a lobby in a bland uniform with a blank stare and a deliberate smile. Jeff spends his time thumbing through a paper back, catching a nap (if he can get away with it) and keeping an eye out for his manager, William (Nasay Ano) who is working the graveyard shift to “weed out the bad apples”. Every so often he gets a visit from the local cops on the beat as they make their rounds. That would be Officer Bill (Joshua Sienkiewicz) and his young partner Officer Dawn (Olivia Rorick). For Dawn this is a routine check-in, but for Bill his stop to Apartment 22J is of a more personal nature.
Cops and guards – just some of the random people you pass every day. As long as they keep trouble out of your way, you’re happy. But what if trouble follows them?
Lonergan’s Lobby Hero is a tightly written, multilayer interwoven story about two sides of the same coin. What makes the dance so interesting is how the four characters pair off at various times to subtly create odd fusions which constantly have these four squaring off with each other in different combinations. Sometimes the division is between the security officers and the police officers. Sometimes it’s between the rookies and the veterans. Sometimes the line is drawn between the ones who do it by the book and the ones who don’t mind bending the rules. And like a paper fortune teller, every time a new path is chosen by one of the characters there’s no telling who will end up siding with whom.
Security Captain William is exacting, official, precise and does things by the book – always. While he certainly is not an old man he is a mature one and leans heavily on Jeff who has less than a year on the job under his belt. William has a low tolerance for Jeff’s cavalier attitude and joking demeanor. For William, the lobby is a place of serious business where one false miscalculation can lead to a landslide of inefficiencies.
One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling, as the expression goes, and for some what might look like a boring job of monotony and lackluster emptiness gives others a sense of quiet servitude … a way to lay a foundation of order, not just for a building but for their own lives as well. So when William confides in Jeff that his brother has been implicated in a brutal crime and is now asking William for an alibi we see how heavily it weighs on this precise man. His brother may be guilty … he may not be. But William is convinced that without his help his brother’s future seems bleak.
On the other side of the lobby doors are the police officers – veteran cop Bill and his rookie Dawn. Bill is gregarious, outgoing and charming – well recognized by the police force with commendations for being an exemplary upholder of the law. Yet despite – or maybe because of – that fact he seems to have no problem creating a few exceptions – especially when it comes to his own needs. Dawn not only has the utmost respect for her partner but she’s dazzled by him, filled with hero-worship and thrilled when, despite being married, he expresses romantic feelings for her. Of course that changes when she finds out just what his nightly visits to 22J have been about.
During these visits while Bill is upstairs Dawn and Jeff strike up a bumpy friendship in the lobby. At first awkward and defensive they soon find a commonality and their bond grows. That is until Jeff, in an effort to win Dawn’s confidence, finds himself betraying William’s. How Dawn uses this information is what sends these four spinning out of control.
Lobby Hero is filled with ironies. Despite the fact that the rookie cop is being told she’s not good enough, Dawn is the one who does all the right things – even if it may be for the wrong reasons. It’s no coincidence that one authority figure is named Bill while the other is named William. Bill, like the name, is casual, takes shortcuts, emanates ease and flair, capping everything he does with a confident swagger. William takes the long way, goes the whole nine yards, he is official, he is complete only when everything is followed to the letter and while he is sure of himself there is no false bravado to his measured actions.
What works so beautifully in Lonergan’s story is that there is no clear path for any of these characters; each is good, but flawed. Each makes choices that are right, but they are all capable of making the wrong choices as well. Turn them one way and they’re estimable, look at them in another light and they’ve acted selfishly, childishly, unprofessionally … but you can still see why.
Peter Jensen’s direction is strong and clear; there isn’t a wasted moment here. Jensen knows how to showcase each of his four actors in order to highlight the inner struggle pushing against the outer pressure. Some of the best moments take place not in the dialogue so much as the glances exchanged between characters. Dozens of emotions dance across Olivia Rorick’s face as she moves from flirtation and coy to overly tough to heart breathtakingly vulnerable. Rorick knows exactly how to play each moment with such a conviction as to make you believe that she’s lived in the skin of this character for a very long time. Joshua Sienkiewicz’s Bill is an incredible balance – what could easily have been a scenery chewing performance is instead a thing of brilliance. Sienkiewicz knows how to be just charming enough while still letting you peek behind the curtain a bit. After all, he didn’t get where he was by being a jerk. In the hands of a less gifted actor Bill could be the kind of character who sets your teeth on edge but in Sienkiewicz’s hands the role is dynamic, fascinating and thrilling to watch.
If I came away with one lesson from Lobby Hero it was this: Right and wrong are not always diametrically opposed. Sometimes they’re partners.
~~~Lobby Hero By Kenneth Lonergan Directed by Peter Jensen October 13-November 20, 2011 Thursday-Saturday @ 8pm Saturday @2pm Sunday @ 3pm Admission: By donation: $20 general admission, $20 seniors and students. Studio students have access to special pricing, see office for more details. Click Here for tickets or call 212.352.3101