New Ground Theatre's "Lobby Hero" Proves a Challenging but Satisfying Experience Print
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Jill Walsh   
Tuesday, 02 September 2003 18:00
I don’t like to start reviews with questions, but New Ground Theatre’s current production of Lobby Hero raises some interesting ones. (1) Is a hero someone who, when faced with a moral dilemma, reveals deep dark secrets that will get a friend in big trouble? 2) Does sliding indifferently through life without ever changing viewpoints, challenging ideas, or standing up for personal rights gain someone hero status? The answer to both, obviously, is no. A hero is defined by my dictionary as “a man of great courage, nobility, etc. or one admired for his exploits.” So what was playwright Kenneth Lonergan thinking when he used a lazy, noncommittal lobby security guard as a protagonist of his play Lobby Hero?

Perhaps he was trying to break the convention of theatre that a main character must undergo some kind of personal transformation (as with Oedipus or Hamlet), because I didn’t see Jeff, the protagonist, change at all in the long-winded script. Or maybe this play just doesn’t achieve “hero” status, despite the usual acting triumphs New Ground Theatre offers.

The story begins with Jeff, appropriately seated behind his lobby desk, reading a novel and basically looking like the human version of Eeyore, the forlorn and grumpy donkey. We soon meet William, the “head” security guard who anxiously paces the lobby and unfolds a tragic tale of his trouble-making brother who has just been arrested and charged with stealing pharmaceuticals from a hospital and murdering a nurse.

Now enter the cops. There’s Dawn, a cute young woman newly employed by the New York City police, and Bill, an arrogant guy who can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business.

While Bill is upstairs “visiting” a female tenant, Jeff and Dawn are left to flirt and discuss life’s frustrations. Eventually, after a lot of conversation between all the characters, it all boils down to this: Dawn, William, and Jeff are faced with ethical dilemmas that will challenge their beliefs.

The story is satisfying and always action-packed. But Lonergan leaves lots of loose ends, which is very frustrating after two hours of involvement in these characters’ lives. And his writing style is quite similar to that of David Mamet, a playwright notorious for using excessive swearing and jumbled dialogue in which characters stumble over each other’s lines. This effectively conveys a kind of natural conversation flow, but it also adds a lot of unnecessary words.

Given the complicated task of making Lobby Hero work, New Ground’s four brave actors are up to the challenge. Rick Davis (Jeff), who usually frequents the stage at ComedySportz, is a good pick for the mopey security guard. He gives us perfect understanding of his character by providing just the right amount of helplessness, humor, and sincerity. Dick Lafrenz (Bill) is bone-chilling (seriously, I felt my fibula freezing) as the conniving cop. During his scenes with Jeff, his character is seething with anger, and I actually believed poor Rick Davis would get punched if he wasn’t careful.

Jamie Em Johnson (Dawn) gives us a nice balance of emotion and also uses an impressive New York accent that emphasizes her tough-girl attitude. I liked Johnson’s interactions with Bill because we see her character’s inner struggle as he continually proves he’s the boss. Torron D. Crawford (William) had a shaky start, but once he began pacing his dialogue, I became much more interested in his dilemma.

And dilemmas are at the core of this play, because all the characters but one are faced with them. Yet the lack of real conclusions or character changes doesn’t work; not every good work of art requires a concrete ending, but it’s important to have some idea where the rest of the story is going after the lights come up.

Still, I enjoyed Lobby Hero and was on the edge of my seat during some of the tenser moments. New Ground Theatre continues to contribute edgy contemporary drama to the Quad Cities, and Lonergan’s play is no exception.

Lobby Hero at New Ground Theatre will be presented in Bercher Hall at Rivermont Colegiate in Bettendorf on September 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 p.m. A 2 p.m. matinee will be held on September 7. Tickets are $12. For reservations, call (563)326-7529.
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