Kenneth Lonergan writes plays that are old-fashioned in the best sense. He presents believable characters facing real challenges. As his Oscar-winning “Manchester By the Sea” shows, he makes films that have similar qualities.
“Lobby Hero,” now playing for the first time on Broadway, was first produced off-Broadway in 2001 and it is at least as timely today. This is the first production by Second Stage Theater at its new Broadway venue. Production values are top-notch, from the set by David Rockwell to the direction by Trip Cullman of a fine cast.
Michael Cera, who had been one of the three actors in Lonergan’s “This is our Youth,” the first of his plays to reach Broadway, again displays his affinity for the author. Chris Evans (making his Broadway debut) is an amoral police officer named Bill. This role is a far cry from the part for which he is best known: Captain America in the Marvel Comics movies. As the female police officer, Dawn, Bel Powley is thoroughly credible; I didn’t discover the actress is English until afterward. Perhaps the standout performance is by Brian Tyree Henry (pf FX’s “Atlanta”) in the complex role of William.
Jeff (Cera) is a night-time security guard in a Manhattan apartment building. He is well-meaning, but a bit of loser. He had been in the Navy until he was caught smoking marijuana. William (Henry) is his supervisor, a sober family man with the desire to advance his career. He tries to pass his wisdom and sense of responsibility to the weak-willed Jeff.
The heart of the play is the following dilemma: William’s brother (never seen on-stage) is suspected of a terrible crime and asks William to provide a false alibi. William reveals his dilemma to Jeff. (That part doesn’t ring true.)
The other actors on stage are a male and female police team. Bill is a sleaze, a married man carrying on with a tenant in the building as well as with his partner on the job, Dawn. This raises the issue of sexual harassment, which makes Lonergan’s writing especially timely. Since William is African-American, there are also issues about racial justice.
“Lobby Hero” (at the Hayes Theater) is highly recommended as a thought provoking evening at the theater.