In a fairly short time, Kenneth Lonergan has distinguished himself as a playwright and become somewhat famous for writing such screenplays as 2000’s You Can Count on Me and for contributing to the script of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. And it was Lonergan’s successes that made his 2000 play, Lobby Hero, an attractive entry for the Royal Oak Stagecrafters’ second stage, which aims to present slightly edgier fare than its family-friendly community theater main stage.
Lobby Hero is a stripped-down, two-act, one-set, four-person production that can be presented one of two ways: a) as a comedy with serious elements or b) as a drama with humorous moments. Stagecrafters’ production opts for the latter.
The “hero” of the story is Jeff (Dan Zelazny), a clever but disaffected young slacker joking his way through a security guard gig on the graveyard shift at a nondescript Manhattan high-rise apartment building. His main responsibilities involve making guests sign in and fending off boredom, which leaves him plenty of time to chat up his only regular visitors — his boss William (Marcus Johnson) and a pair of on-duty beat cops, Bill (Steve Tadevic) and Dawn (Kati Pryce).
Over the course of several nights, the quartet finagles its way through a litany of shifting alliances, flirtations and friendships. There’s a murder investigation looming over everything and it’s keeping them all on edge. The audience soon discovers that William is valiantly trying to protect his younger brother, who is a suspect in the death of a nurse. The married veteran cop Bill is willing to help him smooth things over, as long as William keeps quiet about his visits to a female “friend” up in Apartment 2J. To further complicate matters, the tryst comes as a shock to the rookie partner Dawn (since she and Bill are having an affair) and a boon for Jeff, who also has the hots for the attractive lady cop. Caught in the middle of all this, Jeff seems to relish the chaos — and stirs the pot a bit — just to keep himself entertained. But somewhere, deep down beneath the sarcasm, he has a nagging sense of decency.
In fact, all the characters grapple with their own ideas of honesty and loyalty. As a result, their small-scale struggle for morality ultimately reflects some ugly truths about how far people will go to survive. There isn’t much action, just one brief, clumsy dust-up; but there’s a lot of talking, as the characters debate, argue and open themselves up in ways stage characters tend to do.
The actors — all area natives with varying degrees of theatrical experience — make a noble effort to keep up with the witty and sometimes wordy script, but occasionally fall behind. As the lead, Zelazny certainly has the charming smirk down, but he’s probably too old to play a directionless loser and make it seem funny rather than pathetic.
As the conflicted supervisor, Johnson’s so intense he’s likely to blow a button off his starched work shirt at any moment. He has the toughest task, as the constantly on-edge Will, but his effort to remain intense makes him seem stiff, and it shows up in little things, such as the way he keeps over-pronouncing the “flu” in the word “influence.” The standout is Tadevic, who could have easily just played a nasty louse, but he brings a bit of humor and likability to the role. The plot is complex, but directors Hal and Rosemary Robinson keep things straight by presenting the show in a clean and bold fashion. The problem is the pacing is a bit slow for comedy; conversations often drag instead of snap, making what ought to be a breeze more like an endless shift at a dead-end job. Fitting? Yes, but not as much fun as it could be.