This intriguing four-character play takes place in the lobby of a New York apartment building in 1999.
The hero of the title is Jeff (Michael Cera), the security guard on the graveyard shift. The actor drapes his slight frame in an Armani of tics. The beguiling Mr. Cera deftly delivers both comic and tragic lines. He is sweet and powerful, a soul struggling toward redemption. You believe every word, every gesture. He gives us the polished, subtle performance that has become his brand.
Although Kenneth Lonergan’s play was first produced at Playwrights Horizons seventeen years ago, it feels current, dealing as it does with issues of sexual harassment and the inequities of the criminal-justice system. The playwright denies his prescience, stating in a recent interview:
“The truth is, those issues have always been with us… The underlying struggles people go through haven’t changed very much.”
David Rockwell’s set relies on a revolving cube that periodically pitches the lobby elements — the desk, the elevator, the front doors— just a bit to relieve what could have been tedium. He changes the audience’s perspective slightly. It’s a modest and clever manipulation, a palate cleanser of a move.
Directer Trip Cullman’s challenge is regularly picking fights among his four wildly disparate characters — two cops and two security guards all dressed in near-matching costumes — then plausibly restoring equilibrium. He has a lot to work with in Lonergan’s spiky script.
Cullman gets plenty of “fight” out of Brian Tyree Henry (William). Tyree does that thing that few actors can deliver. He has a handful of scenes with Jeff (Michael Cera). In each, Henry manages to build to a kind of rage and then pull back to an apology. He’s not just keeping a governor on his anger and exasperation; he takes the roundtrip each time — at least three times. Maybe it is a one-trick pony but it worked for me every time he did it.
Bel Powley plays Dawn, the probational cop partnered with Bill (Chris Evans), a master manipulator who is “this-close” to a gold shield (and you know what that means because you watch television). Dawn is battered one way and another. Her role as victim gets a little tiresome. Powley is a British actor belaboring a Bronxian-Brooklynian accent of sorts, blaring every line. Playing a rookie cop, she makes an actor’s rookie mistake: she forgets to listen to her fellow players — instead seeming merely to wait for her turn to speak. Playing against the broad strokes of Chris Evans, who takes big steps and makes loud noises, it works. Playing against the subtle tones of Michael Cera, it comes up a bit bald.
Presumably a lot of people came to see Chris Evans — Captain America — with his shirt on and his Boy Scout halo a little dinged. Evans plays a cop on the make in every sense. He’s a terrific bastard. You can’t like him, but you’ve met him. (So, apparently, some movie stars can do Broadway in a small cast of pros, play against type and — you know — do it well.)
Lobby Hero offers four gifted actors well-directed, and a script to die for. There is lively laughter peppered through Act 1, as we get to understand Jeff and William, Dawn and Bill. Act 2 opens with everyone’s issues spotlighted, an angry foreboding is established. And then — the resolution.
I won’t tell you what happens, except to say it is, at best, subtle; at worst, a bit flat. I recommend you go and enjoy all that comes before and see how the finale strikes you.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"Shut up. Keep talking. Those clashing orders whisper side-by-side in your mind as you watch the meticulously acted revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,”... That’s because you will probably come to — if not like — then feel personally invested in the four self-sabotaging New Yorkers so completely embodied here by Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Brian Tyree Henry and Bel Powley. And none of them can participate in the simplest exchanges of words without doing serious damage."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Lonergan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea,” specializes in flawed sad sacks and self-sabotagers. He has an all-too-rare gift of perfect pitch when it comes to dialogue."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The social issues that Lobby Hero touches on—sexual harrassment, racial bias in the justice system, the blue wall of silence—are as topical now as when it premiered, but the play's lens is rigorously trained on the personal. Jeff, a chatterbox, is entrusted with secrets that he may not be able to keep, and Lonergan keeps the audience off-balance about his characters’ morality and motivations as the play vascillates between tragedy and humor. As the dramatic waters rise, Jeff bobs with the tides, moored to his desk: a lost buoy in rough seas."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Let's get the obvious question out of the way up front: Does Chris Evans cut it in his leap from the superhero universe to the naturalistic comedy-drama of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero? Absolutely."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Helmer Trip Cullman does his best work with small, tight ensembles like this one, so there’s no slack in the emotional tension and no escape from the sticky web that even nice people get tangled up in when they tell lies – especially the lies they tell themselves."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...