nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 22, 2011
T. Schreiber Studio is one of my favorite indie theater destinations—has been for many years now. What you'll get whenever you see a show here is something crafted meticulously, with care, intelligence, and passion. The Studio is known for doing modern classics; I've seen productions of works by playwrights like Chekhov, Stoppard, Lanford Wilson, and Kaufman and Hart all done as near definitively as possible. This season, they're venturing into more contemporary territory, with a brand new musical and a revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot planned for the spring.
Opening the season is Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan, which premiered just ten years ago at Playwrights Horizons. Director Peter Jensen and his collaborators have mined the play for all that it has to offer.
We are greeted, as we often are at Schreiber, by a remarkable naturalistic set. This one is designed by Matt Brogan, who also did last season's extraordinary design for Balm in Gilead. It transforms the space into the lobby, and the area immediately outside the front door, of a mid-range Manhattan apartment house. Much of the play's tone is established by the environment Jensen and Brogan have created: we can see that this is a respectable building but one that has seen better days, and that the people who live and work here are very likely stuck at the lower end of the middle class; this is heightened by excellent contributions by Page Clements (dialect coach), Lois Catanzaro (lighting), Anne Wingate (costumes), and Andy Cohen (sound). My favorite detail: a small bowl of candy corn on the lobby front desk—for the play takes place in mid-November, when Halloween leftovers are de rigueur in a place like this.
Lonergan's play tracks a few eventful days in the life of Jeff, a slacker who got discharged from the Navy when he was caught smoking pot and who now works as the nighttime security guard at this apartment house. Lobby Hero is in many ways a modern NYC romantic comedy, and so one of its main storylines follows Jeff's unlikely blossoming relationship with Dawn, a rookie NYC cop whose partner visits this building frequently. Michael Black and Olivia Rorick give us a couple to truly root for as this clumsy, inarticulate, but generally well-meaning pair.
But Lobby Hero is also a thriller, of sorts, and a morality play: Jeff's boss William's brother has been arrested for a very serious crime, and William has to decide whether to honor his high standards of integrity or to lie on his brother's behalf. Dawn's partner, Bill, is also engaging in a variety of behaviors that are, at best, hypocritical (and at worst illegal); what should Dawn do about that? And then there's the whole matter of Dawn having beat up a guy who she believed was about to attack her. Jensen and his cast do not coast through these serious issues the way that Mark Brokaw's original production mostly did, and as a result this revival of Lobby Hero feels darker and more substantive than the play I remembered from ten years ago. I still left wishing Lonergan had found a better ending, but the play's perspective on people's inability to never really "get" or help one another rang loud and clear.
Joshua Sienkiewicz and Nasay Ano round out the four-person cast as Bill and William, respectively, giving fine performances. Everything about this production is commendable; especially if you've not seen the play before, this Lobby Hero may be worth a look.