Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review of "Lobby Hero"

Poor Jeff (Michael Cera).  He works the graveyard shift managing the front desk of a nondescript hotel, lives with his brother, has no love life, and has a lousy sense of humor.  He also can’t keep his mouth shut, which causes more trouble than not.  He is the central character in Lobby Hero, playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s affecting, often times, tense drama.

The plot slowly develops from a routine, nightly check-in between security supervisor William (Brian Tyree Henry) and his subordinate Jeff and then casually, almost off-handedly begins to escalate into what could be a murder investigation.  Enter Bill (Chris Evans), a brawny, domineering police officer, who has no qualms bending and even breaking department rules and Dawn (Bel Powley), his dutiful, reticent female partner.  Through repeated visits to the featureless lobby the audience learns more about each character, their desires, shortcomings, and their ethical rectitude and moral integrity.  All of this is framed within the intensifying inquiry into a brutal killing.

Mr. Lonergan has crafted a taut melodrama that primarily explores truthfulness and the decisions people make when confronted with the notion of what is right versus personal choice.  He has layered his work with enough humor to keep the play from becoming overwrought. Setting the action within the small confines of a hotel lobby heightens the tension, which culminates with an electrifying climax.

The cast is solid.  Michael Cera exudes banality and smallness as a young man attempting to ascertain his place within society.  The actor conveys honesty and conflicted emotions on the question of right and wrong; loyalty and personal integrity.  Brian Tyree Henry imbues his character with a straightforward directness and outward fortitude that belies his insecurities and the mounting family crisis that envelopes him.  Chris Evans makes an auspicious Broadway debut as the ego-centric, tough-minded, yet flawed police officer.  He effortlessly oozes insincerity and arrogance, often in a chilling, piercing manner.  His partner, played by Bel Powley, at first, comes across as a fish out of water with the other three performers.  But her character’s outward reserve and naivet√© mask a steeliness and inner strength which propels the forcefulness of the production through its searing conclusion.

Director Trip Cullum skillfully guides the performers through a bumpy emotional landscape.  He illuminates each character with individualized mannerisms and traits.  There is apprehension and a jumpiness that he adeptly sets off with the mundane and humorous.  His execution of the show’s payoff is chest-pounding and wholly satisfying.

David Rockwell’s Scenic Design is uncomplicated and modest—a rotating stage with an unadorned lobby, plate glass front doors, and a centrally placed elevator, which stands like a warning beacon over the action.  One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the production occurs when the elevator descends, its lighted floor numbers unhurriedly count down to the ground floor below. 

Lobby Hero, at the newly renovated Hayes Theater through May 13th.

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