by Michael Bracken
Truth be told, Jeff (Michael Cera) the title character in Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero at the Hayes Theatre, is a bit of a loser. Quite a bit. In fact, labeling him a hero as the title does exudes irony. His heroism, if you would even call it that, is accidental and circumstantial. What heroism he has merely fell into his lap.
Jeff is a security guard at an apartment building, the kind of guard who stands behind a desk and is easily mistaken for a doorman, but he’s not a doorman, because the building is not upscale enough to merit a doorman.
And why is he a loser? There are several reasons, but surely first on the list is that he talks too much. Or maybe that he talks without thinking. The edit button in his brain is broken. Whatever thoughts find their way into his head resonate on his vocal chords and escape through his mouth without consideration. Are they words he really wants floating in the atmosphere? Is he imparting information best kept to himself? Might there be consequences, unwanted consequences, flowing from words best unsaid?
No matter – out they come. And from Michael Cera’s lips they flow with a casual, almost measured pace. They’re in no particular hurry, but they don’t stop to think either.
Cera makes an outstanding Jeff. His is not a clueless clerk – quite the contrary. Cera’s Jeff picks up on things; he just does so in his own time. By the time he does so his foot is already so deeply implanted in his mouth that there’s no way to extract it without calling even more attention to it. So he plods ahead, digging himself in deeper and deeper.
Why does Jeff put his mouth on auto-pilot so often and so doggedly? There are any number of reasons, but the most prominent is Dawn (Bel Powley), a young cop barely out of the police academy, who waits in the lobby with Jeff while her partner Bill (Chris Evans) attends to personal business upstairs. Jeff has a crush on Dawn and wants to impress her. What better way than by showing his worldly knowledge.
He hits a home run the first time Bill leaves her waiting, and he does so without even trying, not knowing she’s carrying a torch for Bill (and has consummated that desire). Score 1 for Jeff. But that’s pretty much the only point he scores.
Things get a bit more complicated when Jeff’s boss William (Brian Tyree Henry) stops by, visibly shaken. He’s so upset he foolishly confides in Jeff. His brother has been arrested for a violent crime; he’s looking to William as an alibi. So a moral dilemma is thrust upon William, and, by extension, upon Jeff. Of course, Jeff confides in Dawn, positing it as a hypothetical situation with a veil so flimsy she’d have to be an idiot not to see it for what it was.
Powley’s Dawn is completely convincing as a young woman determined to fit into her uniform but hampered by insecurity and thwarted by the realities of being a rookie cop. Her voice – a little too loud, monotone, and high-pitched – gives her away in a minute.
Evans’s Bill is cocksure of himself as the veteran officer who’s going to make sure the rookie knows who’s in charge. And Henry, as William, has the most complex character. He’s a man who lives by the book and insists Jeff do the same, but he cuts his brother considerably more slack.
What makes Lobby Hero so intriguing are its shifting alliances and its subjective interpretations of what passes for truth. It’s a tight, taught play that director Trip Cullman keeps that way. David Rockwell’s single revolving set captures the slightly claustrophobic feel of the lobby in Lobby Hero. This is 2d Stage’s first presentation at its new Broadway home, and they’ve chosen a rock solid vehicle with which to make their debut. Let’s hope for equally high quality, and perhaps more challenging, productions as it settles in.
Photos: Mark Seliger
Through May 13th at the Hayes Theatre (240 West 44th Street). https://2st.com/shows/current-production/lobby-hero . Two hours twenty minutes with one intermission.