The lobby hero of the play's title is Jeff, a security guard for a Manhattan apartment building, and the title — as you might guess — is ironic. As Lobby Hero opens, Jeff is engaged in conversation with his supervisor, William. The two men could not be more different. Jeff is a slacker and a doper, in debt and living with his brother while harboring vague dreams of a career in advertising; his greatest achievement so far is the fact that he's held on to this job for over nine months. William is far more rigid, a stickler for rules. He has just fired a man who was two years short of retirement for sleeping on the job, and he threatens to fire Jeff, too, if he doesn't straighten up. But Jeff remains blithely unrepentant, and William has other things on his mind anyway. His brother has been accused of a crime — a murder committed during a drug theft at a hospital — and has asked him to provide an alibi. The conflict between his profound respect for the law and his desire to help his brother is tearing William apart.
This conflict between truth and loyalty — along with a more general question about what constitutes an ethical life — is at the heart of Lobby Hero. It's also explored by the play's other characters, a pair of cops. Bill is a thoroughly corrupt and equivocal longtimer; Dawn is the rookie who passionately admires him until she realizes just who he is. Bill routinely leaves Dawn cooling her heels in the apartment lobby while he visits a hooker upstairs. But she's stuck because she needs him to back up her account of a violent run-in with a drunk, and he's not the kind of guy to tell the truth without recompense. Dawn's world seems as cleanly divided into black and white as William's was before he learned of his brother's crime — except that she's not above using her quest for justice for not-quite-so-noble ends.
Between memories of his bullying but heroic father and his interactions with these characters, Jeff searches for a role model. By nature easygoing and evasive, he wonders if he can live with integrity and "still be, like, an open-minded person." And is it possible to be confident, he wonders, without being a "scumbag"? When he's finally forced into a corner, he finds himself in an impossible ethical dilemma. Whatever he decides, the results will be disastrous. And if he ends up choosing truth, will it be because he desires justice or because he desires Dawn? We in the audience can't tell — and it's certain that Jeff himself doesn't know.
Still, Lobby Hero is anything but a moral treatise. It's a very funny play filled with wonderfully quirky dialogue and peopled by multi-dimensional characters, and Terry Dodd has mounted an excellent production. At its center is Jeff Haas as an understated, naturalistic Jeff. Cajardo Lindsey brings thoughtfulness and dignity to William. There are moments when Susan Scott's Dawn comes across as a little too much the stereotypical New York cop, but she ultimately gives the character eagerness, vulnerability and emotional range. Jude Moran, though, plays Bill as pretty much the kind of bad cop we've seen on a hundred television shows.
As I watched this Miners Alley production, I couldn't help remembering the Denver Center Theatre Company's magnificent production of Lobby Hero, directed by David McClendon, a few years ago. Comparing the two versions is like putting transparencies over a map: Now the mountains are in high relief, now you see sources of water, another transparency and human habitation dominates. McClendon's Lobby Hero was both heavier and lighter than Dodd's. Heavier because the actor who played William, Terrence Riggins, gave the character such a crazed and hard-edged meticulousness that his dilemma became almost tragic; Lindsey, though no less grieved, is more cerebral. As played by Haas, Jeff is as deeply sincere as he is flaky; Rick Stear's version at the Denver Center was more of a trickster. And there, Bill Christ's Bill was not simply a bad cop, but a bad cop who entirely believed himself to be a good cop — at least intermittently, and when it suited him. This interpretation brought a range of colors to the production and made the entire play a good bit funnier.
Even their choice of music illustrates the directors' differences in temperament, with McClendon using Dave Matthews and Dodd evoking nostalgia with the smoky tones of Frank Sinatra. It's as if the Denver Center production were a palimpsest, underlining aspects of this newer one, and revealing how very differently two theater artists can understand the human psyche.
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