‘Lobby Hero’: Second Time’s a Charm

I saw the original off-Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero in 2001, and though I don’t recall many specifics about it, I remember being disappointed — it seemed a comedown from the playwright’s smashing off-Broadway debut a few years before, This Is Our Youth. The new Broadway revival, however (a Second Stage production in the newly refurbished Helen Hayes Theater) left me feeling much different. If ever there was a play that has grown wiser and more pertinent with age, this is it.

The timing couldn’t be better. Nearly all the issues the play deals with, either directly or tangentially — sexual harassment, police brutality, the ethics of “leaking” — have moved to the forefront of our national conversation. Set in the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building, where a sad-sack security guard grinds his way through all-night shifts, the play revolves around four characters faced with moral dilemmas. The security guard’s boss is wrestling with whether to support an alibi for his brother, who is implicated in a brutal murder.  A rookie female cop must decide whether to rat on her harassing veteran partner. The lobby guard who is the sounding board for both of them has to figure out when to keep his mouth shot. Which turns out to be never.

Lonergan has created four very specific and believable characters and unspools the plot complications with absolute fidelity to the way real people talk and act. Some characters do the right thing, some don’t, and Lonergan refuses to judge or simplify the choices. A lesser playwright, for example, would have made the “bad” cop the one who is possibly guilty of an unprovoked police beating; Lonergan pins it on the sympathetic rookie. Maybe it’s Trip Cullman’s sharp production (with uniformly excellent performances from Michael Cera, Brian Tyree Henry, Chris Evans and Bel Powley), or maybe I’ve just belatedly seen the light. But this is one revival that seemed a revelation.

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