[22 November 2011]
Who or what would you lie for? Family? Friends? Sexual desire? A woman? A man? Your job? An affordable apartment in New York City? Is honesty always a virtue? Isn’t loyalty ever a virtue that surpasses honesty? When is loyalty just another word for corruption? Lobby Hero takes very ordinary people with realistic desires and conflicts, and creates a fast-paced drama, which questions truth, lies and compromises.
Kenneth Lonergan, the award-winning author of the films, Gangs of New York, Analyze This and You Can Count on Me, has written a crisp, confident, funny play. It’s not complex, but enjoyable. Lonergan builds consistent characters, whose personalities and carefully crafted foibles drive the storyline. All of the characters possess flaws. All of them make questionable choices with questionable motives. Yet all of them remain oddly likeable and simply fun to watch. The director (Peter Jensen) and the talented cast make intelligent choices in how to portray each role. Any one of the characters could easily have been over-the-top annoying or too unsavory, but instead they just seem human.
Nasay Ano (William) and Michael Black (Jeff)
William (Nasay Ano), the apartment building security captain, is a serious, disciplined, hard working and honest supervisor. He is an African-American, who prides himself on taking on responsibility and doing the right thing. William hired Jeff (Michael Black), a 20-something year old, who was kicked out of the Navy for smoking marijuana, likes to joke but has lacked direction in his life. He’s an easy-going chatterbox, but knows his life seems to disappoint even himself. The two men form a friendship, in which William hopes to serve as a role model to help Jeff grow into someone who will make the right choices. Jeff’s immediate goal is to keep his job as the lobby doorman, long enough to save up money to move out of his brother’s home in Astoria, Queens, and to live on his own.
Their clashing, opposite personalities produce an effective comic chemistry. In one of their exchanges, Jeff questions why William is the “Captain” and everyone else is just a “guard”. In his usual serious tone, William says, “It’s not inappropriate for a semi-military organization to borrow a little military vernacular”. Jeff responds, “But we’re not a semi-military organization!” In frustration, William snaps, “It’s not like anybody’s calling me ‘Captain’ anyways, why do you care about it?” He ends up yelling at Jeff to stop making such stupid conversation.
William then explains he’s preoccupied and tense because the police arrested his younger brother, who now imprisoned at Riker’s Island, faces serious legal problems.
Olivia Rorick (Dawn), Joshua Sienkiewicz (Bill) and Michael Black (Jeff)
Meanwhile, Jeff develops a crush on a young police rookie, Dawn (Olivia Rorick). Naïve and a bit impulsive, Dawn is infatuated with her partner Bill (Joshua Sienkiewicz) however. Bill, an older, married police officer, is well liked in the department and awaiting his pending promotion to detective. He’s willing to make life easier for Dawn, if she’ll play by the rules.
But soon, the quickly shifting game asks, whose rules?
Lonergan, avoiding heavy-handed lecturing, asks, in a world where racism, sexism and economic disparity shade and sometimes create the rules, how do you get ever off the bottom floor, ground zero?
In classical Greek comedy, a flawed, ordinary character does not fall from a lofty station, lest the story would then be a tragedy. With the ancient Greek definition, there was nowhere for the lowbrow protagonist or stooge to fall and not too much for him to lose, which added comedic levity. This play is about being on the bottom floor, in the lobby. All of the characters, particularly Jeff, have an absurd humor that lends the play a light-hearted tone. However, in an interesting mix, the play also poignantly addresses a very realistic, serious and all too human question of being on the bottom floor.
Jeff wearily says, “I just don’t want to be one of those pathetic guys in lobbies who are always telling you about their big plans to do some kind of sh-t you know godd-mn well they’re never going to. I’d rather just be in the lobby and just be in the lobby. To tell you the truth, sometimes I feel like I was worn out the minute I was born”.
Lobby Hero originally premiered in 2001 at the Playwrights Horizons Theatre. This small-scale revival at the T. Schreiber Studio & Theater is an off off-Broadway hidden gem of sparkling multiple facets.
The Lobby Hero extended through December 3; T. Schreiber Studio & Theater, 151 W. 26th Street; (212) 351-3101 or http://tschreiber.org/productions/now-playing/.
Betsy Kim is a writer, living in New York City.
Olivia Rorick (Dawn) & Michael Black (Jeff)
Joshua Sienkiewicz (Bill) and Michael Black (Jeff)