AISLE SAY Boston

LOBBY HERO

By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Lyric Stage
Boston, MA through November 24th, 2001.

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

"Lobby Hero'' is drama on a small scale, but it is fully engaged and engaging, and about as amusing as a play can be and still deal with serious stuff. Kenneth Lonergan's script looks perfectly at home at the Lyric Stage in Sarah Sullivan's elegant mock up of the coolly gleaming night lobby (lights by Karen Perlow) of a residential hotel in Manhattan. But Lonergan isn't writing about the sort of people who can afford to live in such a pricey place. The four characters-- a night shift security guard, his supervisor, a female rookie cop and her savvy pro of a partner-- interact because their mundane jobs throw them together in that Lobby. Each job involves rule enforcement, and has its official rules; and also its unwritten rules for the selective application of those official rules. Exceptions are a matter of judgment and experience, and also matter of personal morality. Nothing unusual there. Cop shows and court trials are television drama's favorite way of framing conflict; the rules and routines so familiar that they can be referred to in a kind of shorthand. Lonergan gives all four of his characters the gatekeeper/guardian function, but he divides them by status and inclination. Jeff, 28, and lowest in the pecking order ( Jason Schuchman) is inclined to give everybody, including himself, a break. Jeff looks up to his slightly older African American boss William (Ricardo Engermann) because William seems to be a genuine straight arrow, strict with himself as well as with underlings, giving only the occasional break to someone who deserves one. William's rigidity was his only defense against the ever beckoning temptations that drew his brother into petty crime. Now his brother is a murder suspect, and William has been warned that the police will be coming around to question him. Bill ( Robert Pemberton), who thinks of himself as a superior specimen and of laws and regulations as the rules of a game that he intends to win-- the Supercop Game-- is inclined to give breaks if the odds are good that there will be favors returned and there's no chance that he'll get caught. Dawn (Cortney Keim) the rookie seems to be essence of female rookie, born yesterday. That someone so young and pretty and inclined to put policemen on a pedestal could make it onto a major metropolitan police force would seem totally implausible if we hadn't seen so many rookies just like her on television. Somebody downtown must give those girls a break.

Jeff is instantly in love with Dawn's implausibility: she's all the manly military virtues his brutal bastard of a Dad admired, embodied in a Babe. Maybe this is what real strength of character looks like! But it doesn't take long for Jeff to figure out that the young woman he's inclined to idealize is inclined to idealize her mentor Bill, and that Bill's Supercop Game is a con that has already compromised the smitten Dawn. Jeff wants to warn her, woo her, impress her, win her -- and he can see that to Dawn he's just a doorman dressed in an imitation cop suit, and the very idea that such a lowly specimen could think that a policewoman might be interested in him is an insult. For everybody, the open hearted path toward intimacy, toward love or friendship or fellow feeling, runs through a minefield. One broken rule makes even a cop a perp, and anything you say can and probably will be used against you. What's remarkable about the Lyric's "Lobby Hero" is how intensely director Scott Edmiston engages us with every minute interaction, and how he makes the moment to moment responses of ordinary working class people seem as consequential as the decisions of generals and kings. We root for the one who is trying the hardest to figure out how to do the right thing for the right reason, and we hope that everybody, right or wrong, will make it through the minefield with minimal damage.

It helps that the Lyric actors are charismatic. Lonergan's play hints that heroes can be found in the most unlikely places. We may be surrounded by heroes, or might even be heroes ourselves. This is easier to accept when the performers have a glimmer of star dust, enough to supply an internally generated follow spot that draws all eyes and endows their smallest gestures with significance. Jason Schuchman, who looks very young and pretty much ineffectual, is a supremely interesting actor. It may be inborn, a gift; or it may be skill: but everything he does on stage seems fresh and quirky yet right. Every thought that passes through the character's mind travels right through Schuchman and communicates, even if in the next nanosecond his Jeff realizes that it would be very bad if anybody could tell what he was thinking and sends out a panicked message to his body to shut down the signal. Too late! We know. And we know why Jeff is a terrible liar and never gets away with anything. Ricardo Egermann, on the other hand, is an actor with a handsome surface and hidden depths. We can't tell what his William is thinking unless he decides to confide, but we know that he is thinking, all the time; thinking and brooding and suffering. Egermann's William has grounding and dignity. Robert Pemberton is raffish and romantic, a leading man who is also a character actor. He gives us a Bill who is a natural, team captain and prom king and union rep and cop of the year, and such a consummate con man that he even cons himself. Bill can get away with almost anything. Who could resist him? Certainly not a vulnerable hero worshipping novice like Courtney Keim's Dawn. And if Bill reminds you more than a little of a certain recent president.....

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