Capital Repertory Theatre Has a “Lobby Hero” You Can Believe In
“Lobby Hero” is a thorny, twisty comedy of morals and integrity that will surprise, delight and reward your investment in it and send you out of the theater hungry for a clarity that the play is striving for.
There is an extended, throw down scene of attraction and confrontation between a rookie cop and a security guard at the top of Act II. Two souls grappling with themselves and each other that will make your night and grateful for your trip to theREP. The arena is an upscale Manhattan high-rise’s lobby and the combatants are a security guard and the patrol cop he’s had his eye on for a while and they throw down for an ecstatic, electric, pulse-quickening brawl of words and postures that will justify your interest in this Naked City morality tale. They circle each other, size each other up, throw their defenses down, engage and retreat to safety as palpably and energetically as if it was a prizefight. It’s an exciting, cherished moment of theater that will hook you, thrillingly performed by Kenny Toll as the guard and Sarah Baskin as the cop. It’s no coincidence that “Lobby Hero” is directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian who helmed last year’s extraordinary “The Royale” which was concerned with the sweet science and the first black heavyweight champion.
The play by Academy Award winner (“Manchester by the Sea”) Kenneth Lonergan is from 2001 but has many relevant topics electrifying the national discourse recently dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, the disparity in black convictions and incarceration and perhaps most potently and critically for the audience and its investment in the story is how they respond to the absolute value of honesty and integrity in our daily lives as citizens or whether there are times when less than the whole truth is required.
The play concerns Jeff (Kenny Toll), a self-described luckless guy who is just trying to get a year of steady employment under his belt so he can move out of his brother and sister-in-law’s place in Astoria and get a place of his own, maybe with a kitchen so he could do some cooking. He inadvertently becomes a conduit to a murder investigation involving his tightly wound boss William’s (Jonathan Louis Dent) brother and a witness to the bad character of his young cop Dawn’s (Sarah Baskin) partner Bill (Mark W. Soucy, the trainer from last year’s “The Royale”).
The cast is terrific. All four are pulled through the knothole in this play, there are many sides to everyone present and there is plenty of humor from all. You will feel like you’ve gotten to know this group very well.
Dent as the boss making his rounds and Jeff’s life difficult by pressing him to go by the book at the top of the show is pitiably on the verge of breaking at the climax as the demands on him nearly overwhelm him. Soucy has all the bluster necessary but an extra messianic glint that nearly sells you on his line of b.s.. Be thankful he’s not a politician. Baskin is a marvel and her flashes of strength, vulnerability, charm, and irritation make you see how perfectly matched she is with Jeff and could make you sigh with gratitude when they finally, briefly move in concert.
Toll is extraordinary. You never know when he’s having you on or is anxiously testing the waters to becoming the person he could be. He easily earns your sympathy and has you laughing throughout the evening, most amiable company which is great because he never leaves the stage. He is the character that makes Lonergan the superior chronicler of the disaffected and you can see the struggle Jeff has trying to live an honest, authentic life in these degraded times. When he says in reference to his father he wonders if you can “inspire that kind of admiration in people and really stand up for what you believe in, and be like an open-minded person?” Dawn quickly assures him “You don’t have to be interesting all the time. I’ll still like you.”
The wood-paneled, glass-enclosed lobby with a desk and neglected sign-in book stage left, an elevator’s doors upstage center and entrance doors stage right. The audience appropriately is on the street outside looking in. There are several scenes staged outside the building under street lamps in the paths used by the audience to get to their seats. It’s a great set (designed by Cristina Todesco) and I especially appreciated the floor which emphasized the gladiatorial conflict. The play begins with Kenny Toll ambling on in the half-light (designed by Devorah Kengmana) to a percussive soundtrack mixed with heavy traffic by Sound Designer, Arshan Gailus. There are no black-outs and the play moves with swiftness and urgency.
I really appreciated the opportunity to finally see “Lobby Hero” in such a world-class production. The play may be 20 years old but Lonergan was looking at core values and whether truth, justice, and the American way were still relevant. The questions have only become more urgent.