New York City Theater
The Second Stage revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s poignant, humane work about a schlemiel who finds his moxie benefits from its superb cast. Michael Cera is a perfect choice for Jeff, the schlemiel who becomes the unlikeliest of heroes, while genuine movie hero Chris (Captain America) Evans is wonderful as anti-hero Bill, the play’s villainous catalyst. The two bounce off each other not as good vs. evil but two sides of the same coin.
Jeff is a security guard (definitely not a doorman, he insists) in a high-rise New York apartment building. Supervised by the troubled William, whose brother may or may not have stolen from, raped and murdered a nurse, Jeff is enamored of Dawn, Bill’s partner. The juxtaposition of names -- William and Bill are two different characters -- may be symbolic in a play of mixed, sometimes unfathomable motivations.
Every character’s sense of duty is tested. Should William provide a false alibi for his brother? Should Dawn report Bill’s extra-curricular activities, his visiting an upstairs prostitute while Dawn cools her heels downstairs? How questionable is Bill’s collusion with William? Should Jeff expose all the bad behavior? Are these questions of morality or expediency?
That definitive answers never come is due to Lonergan’s sense of human ambiguity. The author of empathetic stage works, “This is Our Youth” and “The Waverly Gallery,” as well as penetrating films, “You Can Count on Me” and “Manchester by the Sea,” is not one to create neat packages. Rather, his grasp of character and pungent dialogue reveal how complex and messy human actions can be.
His “Lobby Hero” people all want to move up in the world, though they’re going about it in circuitous ways. Take Jeff: thrown out of the Navy for smoking pot, rejected by his martinet father, living with his brother, he’s saving money to move into his own apartment. Wanting to advance himself, he nevertheless doesn’t get past the first two chapters of “The Six Habits of Self-Motivated People.”
As Jeff, Michael Cera, nerves exposed, is constantly hitching his trousers and transferring his insecurities to his agitated hands and eyes. Restless, besotted, he’s the innocent caught in a confusing adult world. As William, Brian Tyree Henry is a caring, conflicted soul in distress, while Bel Powley’s Dawn is torn between duty and feelings as a tough-on-the-outside cop.
Cast against type, handsome and rugged Chris Evans particularly shines as Bill. Portraying the immoral, swaggering, self-centered and immodest cop, Evans gives a performance that may very well remind one of Marlon Brando in his prime. With his New Yawk accent, his defiant stance, his arrogant gum-chewing, his refusal to evoke sympathy, he creates a memorable character.
Credit director Trip Cullman with evoking such complexities. In the midst of a human study, Cullman doesn’t slight the play’s still-relevant social message about rectitude in the face of sexual harassment and inequality. “Lobby Hero,” with its minimal set and small-bore plot only seems too inward to be consequential. Yet its examination of how people can fail one another is timeless.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 9, 2018