Jeff is a blabbermouth. A security guard who bristles at being referred to as a doorman in Kenneth Lonergan’s LOBBY HERO, Jeff speaks innocently enough. But that’s the problem. In act one, Jeff inadvertently babbles something that triggers a woman’s scorn and sets all of LOBBY HERO’s subsequent plot twists in motion. In act two, he clumsily hints at information that deeply affects the lives of the four characters Lonergan puts on stage. Jeff’s naivety and stupidity is a catalyst that starts the author’s knowing examination of morality, motivation, loyalty, and duty.
Matthew Decker has his talented cast for Theatre Horizon’s production of LOBBY HERO play act one as if it was a loose comedy. You don’t take the consequences of Jeff’s loose lips seriously because Decker’s staging plays so lightheartedly. Coincidences that arise seem more situational, the kind that would generate an ‘oh-oh’ on a ’50s sitcom laugh track, than matters that speak to individual honor and responsibility. Decker’s production doesn’t hint at the depth and more somber tone that will come to light in act two.
Watching the two acts is like watching two different plays. The first makes LOBBY HERO look dismissible, a pleasant comedy deftly timed to reveal a new salvo when one fades. Consequences don’t seem to reach further than the simple disappointment of one individual at the behavior of another. Rachel Camp, in what will prove to be a breakthrough role, and Akeem Davis, who never gets as cartoonish as his castmates, provide some moments of gravity, but Brian Ratcliffe, as Jeff, and Kevin Meehan, as a policeman, remain entertainment but typed and superficial.
That changes in act two. By now, Lonergan and Decker have shown more is at stake. The information Jeff has revealed has caused a rift between the cops, who share a beat. It sets off a power game in which Meehan’s Bill threatens to scuttle the police career of Camp’s Dawn, a rookie on her six-month NYPD probation while partnering with Bill. The frivolous and comic takes on serious overtones. It’s wonderful, in particular, to see Ratcliffe’s Jeff realize when he has put himself in an unescapable corner and trade his non-caring, blatantly foolish approach to life with a sense of guilt, coupled with fear he might be fired, assaulted, or jailed by one of the people whose lives his lack of discipline has upended.
Lonergan is exploring trust on many levels, including the public’s trust in the criminal justice system’s ability to mete out justice. He takes a situation that seems only to affect the two officers and builds it into one that affects everyone. With a skill playwrights have plied since the dawn of drama, Lonergan convinces you to side with the people who are damaging the justice system the most.
If you read through the lines, Lonergan does a better job than Decker of making his entire play ominous in spite of its comic lines and seemingly light consequences in act one. Once Decker catches up with the author, the Theatre Horizon production sets up the moral dilemma plainly. It not only illustrates the damage Jeff does, possible to public advantage in the long run, it lets you chart the tangled web deception weaves and challenges you to back less attractive horses over the ones who are doing the most harm.
Set designer Maura Roche provides a typical lobby, the hallmark of which is the decorative glass and wrought iron door to the apartment building that doesn’t seem to have as fancy or elegant an interior. Alison Roberts did a fine job designing the police and security company uniform: Davis looks commanding in his uniform while Ratcliffe looks like a slob in his. Maria Shaplin’s lighting takes account of times of day and of a situation’s mood. Read the full review >>
[Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, Pa.] February 18-March 13, 2016; theatrehorizon.org.