Chris Evans and Michael Cera Star in Lobby Hero on Broadway
Kenneth Lonergan's 2001 comedy-drama opens Second Stage Theater's new Broadway home.
Watching the Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero is simultaneously impressive and depressing. It's impressive because Lonergan's observations about sexual politics and systemic racism feel like they could have been written in 2018. It's depressing because they were actually written at the turn of the century, suggesting that not much has progressed since then. Still, under the sturdy direction of Trip Cullman, this is a strong inaugural production for Second Stage Theater at its new Broadway home, the refurbished Hayes Theater.
Originally produced by Playwrights Horizons in 2001, Lobby Hero takes place in the lobby of a residential building in Manhattan in the winter of 1999. Jeff (Michael Cera) is the night security guard and William (Brian Tyree Henry) is his supervisor. William prefers the title "captain," because he considers his work "semi-military," even though he knows that both of them are outclassed by real NYPD officers like Bill (Chris Evans) and his new partner, Dawn (Bel Powley). Bill is sleeping with Dawn, but he's also sleeping with Mrs. Heinvald in 22-J. While Bill is upstairs with her, Jeff uses the opportunity to flirt with Dawn.
Meanwhile, William (who is black) is worried about his delinquent brother, who has just been accused of a serious crime — and who has named William as his alibi. Bill wants to help William by pulling some strings in the police department. Bill knows that his word will count for something in this organization that values honor above all else. Dawn wonders if this loyal boys club will ever truly accept a woman into its ranks.
Seemingly in an effort to make his themes as clear as possible, Lonergan's story plays out in a series of extended two-character scenes, occasionally erupting into a confrontation with the whole cast. In unpretentious language, the characters take sides, practically providing talking points for the postshow debates that will inevitably occur as the audience files out of the theater.
Cullman helms a clean production, with a design that supports the story. David Rockwell's rotating set offers interior and exterior views of the lobby, while also allowing Cullman to shift the angle of the mise-en-scène. Japhy Weideman's lighting and Darron L West's sound design capture the traffic and artificial illumination of city that never sleeps.
Paloma Young's costumes add surprising depth to this play in which every character wears a uniform: The cops are severe in dark navy, while Dawn seems slightly overloaded by her gear. Similarly, Jeff swims in his light-blue uniform, a knockoff of what the NYPD used to wear before shifting to a darker, more intimidating look. None of them appear as comfortable in their clothes as Bill, although that surely has something to do with the effortless swagger of the actor.
As the alpha male of the play, Evans arms himself with a Burt Reynolds mustache and a thick working-class New York accent. Bill is a character that thrives on his self-perception as a supercop and stud; Evans convincingly conveys both. This is in sharp contrast with the unfailingly nonthreatening Cera, who endows Jeff with down-turned lips, like a melancholic teddy bear. His sarcasm is delivered with disarming sincerity, as if he hopes that no one actually notices he's being sarcastic. Powley is scrappy yet vulnerable as Dawn: When Bill describes her as a "little girl wearing a police uniform," it is hard not to agree with his assessment even if we bristle at his chauvinism. Henry plays William with harried determination: This is a man with a plan that is constantly undermined by lazy underlings and embarrassing relatives. So why does he keep giving them breaks?
At its heart, Lobby Hero is about loyalty: how cops are more loyal to each other than to the law, and how blood is thicker than water. This behavior seems incompatible with a society in which all are supposedly equal, but the characters in Lobby Hero know that reality is far from fulfilling this ideal. So in an effort to balance the scales of justice, is it defensible in some cases to lie to your boss? What about to the cops? Even the ethically ironclad will find their moral clarity muddied by Lonergan's thoughtful human drama. Lobby Hero is an unlikely candidate for a Broadway run, but this excellent revival makes a strong argument for its presence.