“Lobby Hero”: Lasting the Test of Time

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“Lobby Hero” stars Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Brian Tyree Henry (pictured), and Bel Powley. (COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS)

By MARYANNA ANTOLDI

Late night, 1990s. The lobby of a modest apartment complex in New York City. This simple setting is the basis for director Kenneth Lonnergan’s two-hour drama “Lobby Hero,” playing now at the Hayes Theater.

First performed in 2001, “Lobby Hero” is a play as small as the intimate, 600-seat theater it occupies. The set is simplistic: a rotating room consisting of just a security desk, elevator, armchairs and door—meant to represent a typical waiting area. There is no music, with little to no sound effects either. And the cast? Just four members: Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Scott Pilgrim”), Chris Evans (“Gifted,” “Captain America”), Bryan Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”) and female lead Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “A Royal Night Out”).

The cast portrays different members of law enforcement, all with interweaving relationships. Jeff (Cera) is an awkward security guard who works the nightshift, the only company he has is his boss, the nitpicky William (Henry), who visits during his rounds. Bill (Evans) is a renowned NYPD officer noted for his heroism and bravery, but his newest partner, the anxious and inexperienced Dawn (Powry), becomes the latest object of his sexual appetite.

But things are more serious than meet the eye: William’s brother commits murder, and William is hesitant to provide a false alibi on his behalf. If he does, his brother will most likely run free. If he doesn’t, his brother will be convicted. William confides this information to Jeff, who struggles to keep the secret to himself once faced with Bill and Dawn’s questioning. Add that to Jeff’s growing affections with Dawn, who is attempting to rebuke Bill’s sexual flirtations towards her—despite his threats of blackmail if she does not comply. As the characters interweave with each other’s plotlines, one major question appears to bubble out of the surface: Does wearing a uniform really make you a better person? Or does it just make the sting worse when you yourself break the law?

This moral conflict is what drives these characters to their individual breaking points. Lonnergan tackles the same issues of sexual harassment, racial profiling and abuse of power in the workplace as in the play’s original run in 2001, but they still retain a sad poignancy 17 years later in the age of #MeToo. However, the play is not agenda-driven. These issues are touched on briefly, for they are just a part of the world we live in and fuel some of the conflicts within each character. This play is about the individual rather than the society as a whole.

Lonnergan loves imperfect characters. Many of his other works such as “Manchester by the Sea” specialize in flawed people—the kind who try to do the right thing but fail in the process. This is the exact pattern we see in “Lobby Hero:” William, who is so desperate to uphold his reputation as an officer, fights with himself on whether to back his brother’s false alibi or not. Jeff, a 27-year-old man kicked out of the Navy for smoking pot, swears that he will finally get his life back on track. William’s confidence in Jeff pushes him to the breaking point—afraid that his own life will get derailed if he keeps William’s secret to himself.

And next we meet Dawn, an anxious new police recruit eager to prove her potential to her superior, Bill. Bill’s a celebrity among the NYPD, and he and Dawn quickly grow attracted to one another. But a romance soon turns into a problem when Dawn realizes Bill is sleeping with other women on the job—and threatens to ruin her career if she spills his secret. Suddenly her idolization of the man turns into hatred, and the police force itself is not nearly as heroic as it first appeared.

With the amount of drama permeating in each moment of the production, every actor holds his own on the stage and delivers an excellent performance. There are points where the dialogue comes off awkward and choppy, but the actors more than make up for it with the amount of emotion each delivers. Evans especially shines in his Broadway debut, and it is a shame that his character is the least prominent on stage. Powley’s performance also stuns, her raw emotion instantly placing the viewer on her side from beginning to end. Out of the four actors, Evans and Powley clearly have the best chemistry together. However, do not underestimate Cera and Henry. Their performance is intense, physical and completely captivating.

“Lobby Hero” may not be the most enthralling play on Broadway, but it stands as an intellectual work that truly makes you sit and question aspects of society by the time of its completion. Lonnergan’s work lasts the test of time, and the newest cast does the script justice. With a short run ending in May, it holds its own amongst the bigger productions, so see it while it lasts.