NYC Actor Kenny Toll Patrols theREP Stage in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero”
The Fall season at theRep is opening with “Lobby Hero,” an 18-year-old play by the Academy Award winner (“Manchester by the Sea”) Kenneth Lonergan. It had a starry revival on Broadway last year featuring Michael Cera and Chris Evans. In fact, three of Mr. Lonergan’s decades-old plays have received their Broadway debuts in recent seasons.
Has the time come for Mr. Lonergan? Perhaps the times have just caught up to what he was writing about all along. As Ben Brantley said of last year’s Broadway production in the New York Times “In the age of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, Americans may be newly receptive to ‘Lobby Hero.’ But don’t imagine that this work, directed with savvy restraint by Trip Cullman, is an agenda-driven debate. Mr. Lonergan, you see, doesn’t work in bold blacks and whites, but in compelling shades of gray. He understands that purity of thought and deed is pretty much impossible in this muddy world.”
Capital Repertory Theatre is getting behind this twisty tale of moral relativism and justice sought where a security guard is working the overnight shift and hears a story about a murdered woman from his boss and feels compelled to share it as a hypothetical story with one of the two cops who for some reason make a nightly stop at this unassuming Manhattan high rise.
I had an email interview with Kenny Toll who plays Jeff:
What’s your role in “Lobby Hero?”
I play Jeff, a down on his luck night security guard of a middle-class NYC apartment building. He’s been kicked out of the navy, got himself into some money problems and is now trying to get his life back on track.
Are you the “Lobby Hero?”
I think on the surface level Jeff is considered the “Lobby Hero”…but what makes this play so wonderful is that the three other characters (William, Dawn and Bill) are all the “Lobby Hero’s” in their own minds. Each is desperately trying to do the right think or at least what they THINK the right thing is through the course of the play.
What do you do that’s heroic?
Jeff finds himself in the middle of a deep ethical dilemma, William has revealed a secret to him involving Williams brother, a murder and an alibi. Jeff must decide what he’s supposed to do with the secret. It’s a play about what is right and wrong and how those lines are incredibly blurred. I think there is no clear “Heroic act” that Jeff does, it’s the moral and ethical questions about what makes someone a hero and makes their lives significant that Jeff is grappling with.
What do you love about this play?
I love the language in this play. As an actor it’s a blast to try to navigate the intricacies of the text. Lonergan has written a hyper-naturalistic piece of theater and I feel like I’m in drama school trying to figure it all out and bring it to life for an audience.
Any thoughts or theories on the incredible resurgence of Kenneth Lonergan on Broadway these past few seasons 20 years after these plays were written?
This play deals with so many issues that resonate so strongly with our current environment. It deals with workplace sexual harassment, police brutality, the inequalities of the justice system. It deals with racism and sexism. Now, 20 years after it was written, these issues are at the forefront of everyone’s mind and I think that’s why we are so fascinated and moved with his plays. I think we as a culture are trying to find the right way to move forward which is exactly what the characters in his plays are doing.
Megan Sandberg-Zakian is returning to theREP after last year’s phenomenal “The Royale,” that play had a very distinct physical vocabulary appropriate to a play about boxing….is there a physical language to this play? Can you describe something distinctive about working with Ms. Sandberg-Zakian?
I had the pleasure of working on a new play with Megan in California last year and she is really quite brilliant. She has a way of trusting her actors and crew, allowing us to organically find our characters and our voices while guiding us further in that direction. Megan builds an incredibly safe space for us to play and discover which is something I think all artists hope for but don’t often find. Because this play takes place in such a realistic world, the physical language lives in our bodies and the way we inhabit these characters.
I notice some San Francisco credits in your bio, where did you go to school and where are you based now?
I was born and raised in LA and went to school at San Francisco State University. I stayed in the Bay for about ten years and I moved to NYC about a year and a half ago. That’s where I am currently based!
What is the play that changed your life and why?
My first real professional gig was the Tom Wait’s adaptation of Woyzeck at The Shotgun Players in Berkeley, CA in 2012. I am a huge Tom Waits fan and I was working with a dream team of people at a theater company that I had revered for years. We did something like fifty performances and it was absolutely one of my all-time favorite experiences. That was the show that really started my career in theater.
Best night you’ve spent in Albany so far doing what?
The cast and crew all went out for dinner at Umana and it was delicious! Such a great restaurant.
I’m betting that one of your best nights in Albany this Fall will be checking out Mr. Toll and his castmates in Ms. Sandberg-Zakian’s production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” at theREP from 9/27-10/20. Tickets available www.capitalrep.org or 518-445-SHOW (7469).
All photos by Douglas C. Liebig