*The revival of “Lobby Hero,” penned by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, opened March 26 at The Hayes Theater. The comedy-drama features an extraordinary four-person ensemble that includes Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad, TV’s “Arrested Development”). Brian Tyree Henry (the F/X hit “Atlanta”), Bel Powley (Diary of a Teenage Girl), and Chris Evans (Captain America, The Avengers), who makes his Broadway debut. “Lobby Hero” is directed by Trip Cullman (“Six Degrees of Separation,” “Significant Other”) and presented by Second Stage’s inaugural production on Broadway at the company’s new home, The Hayes Theater.
Set mostly in and around a Manhattan high-rise apartment in a middle-class community in the winter of 1999, the dramedy centers around the four New Yorkers whose lives converge in the lobby surrounding a murder investigation.
A natural-born comedian with impeccable timing, Jeff (Michael Cera) is a rookie uniformed security officer in his late 20s, who was dishonorably discharged after three years in the Navy for smoking marijuana. His father, a Navy veteran, has practically disowned him and is ashamed his son was kicked out of the armed forces. With nowhere to go, the wisecracking Jeff has moved in with his brother Marty, the only person he can depend on besides his 20something boss, William (Brian Tyree Henry), the youngest supervisor/captain in the history of the security firm, where they work. Jeff is profoundly grateful to William for hiring him and giving him a chance to start over and get back on his feet. Jeff also wants to live on his own and repay Marty all the money he has borrowed from him.
Both an introvert and an extrovert, Jeff is a simple man, an underachiever with a great sense of humor whose life is pretty boring. He has no luck with women; Jeff reveals that he once dated a woman he later found out was a prostitute. He has a proclivity for lady cops as he shares with William that he has a secret fantasy about Dawn (Bel Powley), a rookie cop. Jeff is often so preoccupied on the job that William frequently lectures him about applying himself and threatens to fire Jeff if he doesn’t become more conscientious about his work. Though William is fond of Jeff, he continually encourages Jeff to expand his world, reach higher and take life more seriously. William believes in second chances, but he is quick to fire inept and unqualified employees.
Though William is concerned about Jeff, he is distracted and worried about his brother, who was picked up by the cops for questioning in a murder case. He senses that his brother is in trouble and fears he will land in jail.
Veteran NYPD officer Bill (Chris Evans) and his rookie partner, Dawn, arrive at the building on their rounds. Bill has been showing Dawn the ropes, specifically the corruption and abuse of power within the police department. It’s clear they find each other attractive. Bill is a macho, and egomaniacal playboy, who is also married. Dawn, who has not yet cleared her six-month probation period, is enamored with Bill and quickly becomes emotionally attached. In many ways, Dawn’s ego is just as inflated as Bill’s. As he flirts with Dawn, Bill says, “Any more of this and I’m gonna sue your ass for sexual harassment.” Dawn replies, “I think it’s a little late for that.”
On a routine stop at the residential complex, Bill tells Dawn to wait in the lobby while he visits his friend “Jim” in apartment 22J. As Dawn waits, chatterbox Jeff makes his way over. Helplessly attracted to Dawn, Jeff is his annoying self and starts to share unnecessary information with her about Bill and the female tenant in 22J. Initially uninterested, Dawn is turned off by Jeff, who becomes confrontational during their conversation. “Would you shut up and take it easy?” she commands.
Dawn becomes increasingly impatient and hopes that Bill comes downstairs soon. By this time, Dawn starts to warm up to Jeff to hear more about the female tenant that Bill mentioned was a male friend. Jeff tells Dawn that Bill is upstairs getting laid by Mrs. Amy Heinvald. Though Dawn pretends not to care that Bill is rolling in the hay with another woman, her feelings are apparent to Jeff. She soon becomes jealous and angry. Bill reappears, looks for a reaction, and notices that she is upset.
William arrives at the high-rise to make his security rounds, and he is visibly more troubled than the night before. In a vulnerable state, William confides to Jeff that his brother was arrested and sent to Riker’s Island prison along with two criminal friends for the brutal death of a young woman. Though his brother’s friends were positively identified, no one was able to make an identification on his brother. Jeff’s brother’s girlfriend talked with the police officers and used William as an alibi the day of the murder.
Tensions arise as the truth of Bill’s routine stops in the building, combined with Dawn’s unprofessional attachment to him, create a snowball effect that unravels their partnership. Meanwhile, William is conflicted, not knowing whether or not his brother had anything to do with the murder. Though William wants to believe that his brother wasn’t capable of this horrible crime, he also knows the company he keeps. Well aware of the high incarceration rates and unfair treatment that black men face within the criminal justice system, Williams also believes that people should take responsibility and be accountable for their actions.
There are several poignant themes in the play that deals with family, moral conflict, integrity, loyalty, the imbalance of power, racial bias in the criminal justice system, and sexual harassment, but the underlying theme in “Lobby Hero” is about the decisions we make every day and the consequences that we have to live with as a result of our choices. Whether in good times or bad times, do we make the right decisions? Do we operate in the spirit of goodness or wickedness, decency or indecency when we’re put on the spot? Are we justified when we choose right versus wrong; trust versus distrust, honesty versus dishonesty, kindness versus meanness?
As a result of the decisions made by Jeff, William, Bill, and Dawn, there are no positive outcomes. Ultimately, William decides to stand by his brother. Jeff decides to dishonor William. Bill decides to support William, and Dawn decides to disgrace Bill.
With a brilliant and clever storyline, Lonergan — who received the 2017 Academy Award for Best Original Screenwriting for the film Manchester by the Sea — has crafted a thought-provoking play infused with comedy in all the right places. The scenic design by the award-winner David Rockwell is outstanding. The 2018 revival of “Lobby Hero” is one of my top five plays of the season.
“Lobby Hero” originally premiered at Playwrights Horizons and then moved to the John Houseman Theatre in New York City. The production made its Broadway debut in June 2002 at the New Ambassador Theatre. “Lobby Hero” runs through May 13 at The Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY. For information, please visit, https://2st.com/.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media strategist and consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She covers entertainment, travel, and lifestyle news. Quinn is a voting member of the Drama Desk. She is a contributor to NBCNews.com/NBCBLK.com, BlackEnterprise.com, HuffPost, and Medium.com, among others.