The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 13, $99 - $169
Kenneth Lonergan is en fuego. In 2014, the playwright and filmmaker’s 1996 work, This Is Our Youth, debuted on Broadway. Lonergan’s first play to make it to the Great White Way earned a Tony nod for Best Revival. Two years later, his off-Broadway play Hold on to Me Darling had an extended run at the Atlantic Theater, and the Bronx-born Lonergan’s indie film Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay; Lonergan won the latter. And no sooner did Lonergan’s 2001 play, Lobby Hero, start accumulating accolades for its current Broadway revival than it was announced that his Pulitzer Prize–nominated 2000 work, The Waverly Gallery, will make its Broadway bow in the 2019 season. Lobby Hero also has the honor of being the first play produced at Second Stage’s first home on Broadway, the newly remodeled Hayes Theater on West Forty-Fourth St., where the show continues through May 13.
In Lobby Hero, Lonergan explores personal and professional responsibility while addressing police brutality, sexual harassment, misogyny, the prison system, militarism, lust, and racism; he made only minor tweaks to the original play, and more than a decade after he wrote it, it still fits in extremely well in this #MeToo, Black Lives Matter era. Michael Cera, who starred in the revival of This Is Our Youth and will be in The Waverly Gallery with Elaine May, plays the title character, Jeff, a wisecracking, ne’er-do-well security guard at a Manhattan apartment building. Jeff, who is trying to get his life on track, works for William (Brian Tyree Henry), known as the Captain, a straightforward boss who likes to think he is tough but fair. After Jeff fails to have a police officer who entered the building sign the book, William tells him, “Look, if you stick to the rules, then you never have to have a discussion about whether or not you were justified not sticking to the rules.” Jeff, who thinks he deserves a break, responds, “I am like the most conscientious guy in this whole building. The rest of these guys are like a bunch of crack addicts and degenerates.” The cop who refused to sign in is the hard-headed Bill (Chris Evans), who is in line for a gold shield. He comes by often to call on Mrs. Heinvald in 22J, making his new partner, Dawn (Bel Powley), wait downstairs while he conducts his business. Jeff develops an instant crush on Dawn, who is still on her probationary period after graduating from the academy, but William, a practical man who admits he is “no fun,” puts the kibosh on that. “Whatever you do, you’re just an imitation cop and she’s a real cop. And if you get involved with some lady policewoman, it is a sure bet you’re gonna end up feeling outranked and outclassed,” he says. Ever the jokester, Jeff replies, “I always feel that way. My last girlfriend was a tollbooth collector, and she intimidated the shit out of me. At least if I was going out with a cop, I’d feel, you know, somewhat safe.” When William has a difficult decision to make regarding his brother’s arrest for a gruesome crime, it sets in motion a series of truths and lies that impacts all four of the characters’ lives, changing the power dynamic as they each search for answers to some dangerous situations.
Lobby Hero takes place on David Rockwell’s open, revolving set, which offers several different angles of the lobby as well as the street outside on the cops’ beat. Cera (Juno, Superbad) and Emmy nominee Henry (Atlanta, The Book of Mormon) have an immediate chemistry onstage, like the classic comic and straight man act; Cera is fun as the quipster who seems to really be a good if goofy guy, while Tyree is sensational as the oh-so-serious William, who just wants himself, and everyone he comes into contact with, to do the right thing all the time. Oddly, while Cera and Henry fill their roles with believability and honesty, Evans (Captain America, Snowpiercer), in his Broadway debut, and Powley (Arcadia, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) feel like stereotypes, often going too far over the top, Evans overplaying Bill’s self-importance, Powley using a distractingly childish voice as Dawn. (Cera and Evans also appeared together as adversaries in the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.) Fortunately, director Trip Cullman (Six Degrees of Separation, Significant Other) doesn’t let the characterizations get too far out of hand, as Cera and Henry — both worthy of Tony nominations — bring it all back down to earth. Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret) writes incisive, riveting dialogue that makes its points with intelligence as it touches on key issues. “You don’t worry about if the world is bad or good, because I know goddamn well it’s bad,” William tells Jeff. “You just do your best and let the chips fall where they may.” But Lonergan takes it just that much further, pointing out that we all have a part to play in our destinies. “I feel a little bit responsible for the mess you’re in,” Jeff says to Dawn, who responds, “You’re not responsible. I’m responsible. I’m totally responsible.” And once again, the hotter-than-hot Lonergan is responsible for shining a light on our everyday foibles as well as the current state of our country.