Also see John's review of A Christmas Carol
Jeff doesn't do much in any aspect of his life, and his job requires little more than sitting and watching people pass through the lobby who are more engaged in life than Jeff, and have more complicated lives than his. There's his boss William, the captain of the security force who's been asked to provide an alibi for a younger brother accused of a brutal crime. There's the neighborhood cop Dawn, who may have used excessive violence in subduing an intoxicated man. Her more senior partner Bill promises to testify on her behalf when the incident is investigated, but not without some quids pro quo to protect his own secrets. Anchored to his guard station, Jeff can't avoid becoming drawn into the dramas that unfold in the lobby around him and, like the other three, he's forced to make some tough choices between honesty and loyalty.
Director Keira Fromm gets all the laughs she should from Lonergan's script, but communicates the stakes of this modern-day morality play with certainty. Andrew Jessop perfectly captures the spirit of the heretofore inconsequential Jeff. In a bad haircut and ill-fitting uniform (one of the costumes designed by Joelle Beranek), Jessop's Jeff is neither smart nor stupid, but socially awkward and irritating to others through his naivete. The actor gives Jeff a richly textured combination of insecurity and exasperation together with his growing sense of self. Jessop is exceedingly watchablefunny and touching he moves from mild cockiness to trying to placate those in authority, and ultimately to showing real fear and sadness. Michael Pogue plays William in a suitably high-strung manneras an uncompromising security professional carrying an unbearable emotional burden. Eric Hoffman creates tension as the burly, narcissistic and threatening Bill. Maura Tidwell keeps her cop Dawn tightly wound and guarded until she becomes more assertive in the play's second act.
Lobby Herorealistic and intimate, with a small cast of carefully drawn charactersis the perfect sort of play for a storefront theater, and Fromm has made an even greater advantage out of the setting. The set designed by Jessop turns the whole room into an apartment building lobby with the mid-century décor surrounding the audience on all four walls. In a further bit of environmental design, the storefront windows are entirely uncovered. This not only allows the audience to look out on busy Bryn Mawr Avenuea believable surrogate for a Manhattan streetbut a number of the scenes between Dawn and Bill are actually played on the sidewalk right outside the theater door. The actors are visible to the audience through the window and their dialogue is miked into the theater. These outdoor scenes go on somewhat longer than we might like, but they're effective nonetheless and give an added shot of realism when the actors react to real-life passersby on the street.
It's hard to compare this to my memory of a production I saw ten years ago, but it feels to me that this one out delivers the original. Jessop's Jeff is more nuanced and sympathetic, Hoffman's Bill more dangerous, and the moral stakes drawn more clearly. The realistic environmental staging gives the piece an extra level of truth and authenticity, particularly when Dawn comments to Jeff about the things she sees as a cop. When she tells him “you wouldn't believe the things people do to each other out there,” we can look out on the not-entirely-gentrified street of a diverse Chicago neighborhood and feel the truth in that statement. Redtwist's production shows this play to be meatier and more affecting than audiences and critics in 2001 may have thought.
Lobby Hero will be performed through January 2, 2011, at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-728-7529 or visit www.redtwist.org.