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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

Lobby Hero

Also see Richard's review of Macbeth

Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, which has opened a short run in the Emerson Studio space at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, wraps a universal dilemma in a gritty, localized package. The four characters speak the language of twenty-first century slackers, bullies and boosters, but the problem they articulate is older than Sophocles: how does one justly behave when the law comes into conflict with personal loyalties?

Set in the lobby of a seedy Manhattan high-rise, Lobby Hero covers four consecutive nights in the lives of Jeff, a well-meaning but bumbling security guard, William; his optimistically entrepreneurial but troubled supervisor; and two cops, the beefy and violent Bill and his hopelessly naďve rookie sidekick, Dawn.

Jeff, brought deftly to life by Jim Butz, is the kind of kid you want to wrap up one minute and rap on the knuckles the next. As he pieces out his backstory – abusive father, drug problems, bad conduct discharge – he comes into focus as a good-hearted but clueless slacker, hoping for a better life but struggling to find the emotional strength to move toward it.

William, on the other hand, is driven almost to the point of mania to improve himself and rise within the structure of the corporation, and is commendably willing to help Jeff to do the same. In the first scene, he preaches the gospel according to Norman Vincent Peale: dress for success, always be positive, and make truthfulness your mantra. Unfortunately, his brother has been arrested for a very serious crime, and he has been pressured into providing a false alibi. Certainly this is a stressful position, but not so stressful as to justify Rashaad Ernesto Greene’s consistently over-the-top interpretation of the role.

Bill, almost a stereotype of the thug-in-uniform cop made wildly popular by TV’s The Shield, is a much-commended veteran who doesn’t let the rules stand in the way of protecting the people on his beat, or in the way of collecting the perks of the job, especially sexual perks. The role is a bit one-dimensional, but Lou Sumrall fills it with an imposing physical presence – though he, too, tends to work very broadly.

Poor little Dawn is being sexually exploited by Bill, and at first willingly enough; then a chance comment by Jeff – who has conceived a crush on her after seeing her once or twice – helps her penetrate Bill’s hypocrisy. She gets her revenge through an intricate plot twist that sets up the play’s aching, two-level dilemma about our simultaneous obligations to the larger society as exemplified by laws, and to our friends and families. Tarah Flanagan inhabits this role with great sensitivity and even greater physical and vocal dexterity.

The simple but effective set, featuring some virtuosic paint work, is by Christopher Pickart, and lit unobtrusively by John Wylie. Elizabeth Eisloffel contributes the authentic-appearing costumes. Director Tom Martin is to be commended for the energetic pacing of this often-hilarious but often deadly serious play, but he needs to remind his actors that the very intimate space in which they are working makes it awfully easy to slip from intense to over the top.

Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero will run through April 10 in the Emerson Studio Theater at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. For tickets and performance information, call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.

Lobby hero
by Kenneth Lonergan
at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Directed by Tom Martin

Jeff ... Jim Butz
William ... Rashaad Ernesto Green
Dawn ... Tarah Flanagan
Bill ... Lou Sumrall


-- Robert Boyd

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