Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story Debuts New Space

“This production is so entertaining and so fabulously performed, everyone should see it”.

Artistic director Ed Shea jokes that carving out a new downstairs theater at 2nd Story Theatre’s Market Street building is “what I did on my summer vacation.”

Now, with the start of the fall season, the 70-seat space is making its debut with a play perfectly suited to it, Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero.” Lonergan is the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of the dramatic “Gangs of New York” whose film work also includes the comic “Analyze This.”

Unlike those movies, this stage piece is hard to categorize; it’s witty and clever, but there are serious issues at its core. Still, it’s not a weighty piece, thanks to the interpretation Shea and his four-member cast bring to their oh-so-human characters.

2nd Story envisioned this new theater as a place for off-beat productions, the kind that might not fill the larger theater upstairs (literally on 2nd Story’s second story), says Lynne Collinson, the executive director.

Au contraire: This production is so entertaining and so fabulously performed, everyone should see it.

Set in the lobby of a mid-class New York apartment building, “Lobby Hero” brings together four characters: Jeff, a feckless young man working as a security guard on the night shift; his supervisor, William, a black man who believes in the doctrine of hard work and honesty; Dawn, a rookie female cop trying to survive in a male-dominated profession; and Bill, her experienced partner who has let power go to his head.

Their relationships gel when straight-arrow William’s troublesome brother is implicated in a crime, and the brother (never a character on stage) asks William to give him an alibi, saying they were together at the time.

William struggles with his commitment to telling the truth and his impulse to protect his brother, whose shady past will unfairly prejudice the impending legal proceedings. Complications arise when William confides in the loquacious Jeff, and the whole matter comes to the attention of Bill and Dawn, cops with their own agendas.

In telling these four intermingling stories, playwright Lonergan has a clear eye for human dilemma: wanting to do the right thing, being tempted by the wrong thing, and sometimes not being sure which is which. But the story is far more involved than simply separating right from wrong; plus, Lonergan mines the quirks of human nature for loads of sympathetic laughs.

Jeff Church sets the acting bar sky high as Jeff, the joking slacker who is just beginning to discover pride in getting his act together and holding down a job, but is still goofy enough in an idle moment to karate-chop the potted plant that “decorates” the lobby.

Church embodies this character, from Jeff’s penchant for making a joke or his hapless flirting with Dawn to an underlying sincerity and earnestness. More importantly, he makes us care: We love Jeff’s good nature, and we want him to do well. Church’s performance is among the best on any stage, in any season – anywhere.

Marlon Carey is just as emotionally effective as the mentoring William, who sees Jeff’s lack of direction as something he can correct. “I regard you as a kind of project,” he says, a line that gets a laugh but is said in all sincerity.  His stress over the alibi situation, moreover, is palpable.

Valerie Westgate is perfectly cast as Dawn, looking, as her partner Bill says, “like a little girl in a cop’s uniform.” But she, too, is trying to make something of herself, despite some bad decisions. Ara Boghigian turns in a characteristically polished performance as Bill, the ego-driven cop who rests on his good reputation while doing things that discredit it. Thanks to Boghigian’s work, it’s not hard to believe the dichotomy.

It’s largely due to Trevor Elliott’s evocative set that “Lobby Hero” fits so efficiently into this new theater. His use of tacky paneling, unwashed glass doors and a saggy stuffed chair speak volumes about the rungs of society on which these characters exist.

But their struggles are our struggles; they have characteristics we all share, and that gives this play heft. Maybe while watching these characters and laughing about their foibles, we’re also learning about ourselves. We definitely are being entertained.

-Kathy Raliegh, Woonsocket Call

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