Attention, New York City apartment dwellers: A lot can happen in your building while you’re asleep. Well, that’s perhaps the smallest takeaway from Kenneth Lonergan’s hilarious comedy-cum-morality-play Lobby Hero, which has bowed on Broadway (17 years after its Playwrights Horizons debut) in a scrupulously well-acted production by Second Stage at the newly renovated Hayes Theatre – but it’s one sure to hit home with many of us.
Of course, it’s the bigger issues mixed throughout Lonergan’s deft script that we’re really meant to think about. Lonergan forces the audience to examine such still-timely issues as racism (overt and otherwise), sexism (especially sexual harassment) and the flaws in our legal system. Smartly, many of these elements don’t really hit us until the end of the work’s more lighthearted first act – although they overwhelmingly dominate the second act – but it never feels like Lonergan is hitting us on our heads with a metaphorical sledgehammer.
Director Trip Cullman smoothly and cleverly stages the show on David Rockwell’s evocative rotating set to emphasize the ever-changing shifts in power among the play’s four characters: Jeff (Michael Cera), a hangdog security guard who seems incapable of not talking for more than two minutes; William (Brian Tyree Henry), his bellicose boss who must struggle with one of the most difficult personal dilemmas imaginable; Bill (movie superstar Chris Evans, basically unrecognizable with his silly moustache), a cocky policeman with an equal abundance of both charm and arrogance and just a soupcon of self-awareness; and Dawn (Bel Powley), Bill’s rookie partner whose dedication to the police force is unquestionable but whose fitness for the position sometimes seem doubtful.
Over the course of just a few nights, each of their relationships to one another take as many twists and turns as a driver on the Pacific Coast Highway. William may be Jeff’s supervisor, but in choosing to confide a deep secret to him, Jeff unwittingly (and perhaps unhappily) ends up with the proverbial upper hand. Bill, who has instantly seduced Dawn (in every sense of the word), never lets his partner forget how he can control her future, in both the immediate and larger senses, until she finds the way to turn the tables. Meanwhile, Jeff is attracted to Dawn and tries to worm his way into her affections, with seemingly little success, but when she does thaw, he ends up having second thoughts about their pairing. Lives here, as they do in the real world, seemingly change in the blink of an eye.
Cullman has assembled a top-notch troupe of actors to bring Lonergan’s words alive, beginning with the perfectly cast, consistently brilliant Cera, whose nervous energy makes us worry he’ll tumble off the stage at any minute. The actor, who also appeared on Broadway in Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, plays equally well off all three of his co-stars. Henry is marvelously effective as William, an obviously honorable man who can’t quite live up to his own standards. Powley proves to be a petite powerhouse as the spirited Dawn (although she does tend to overshout some of her dialogue). And Evans, basically a stage novice, is a terrific surprise in the show’s smallest yet pivotal role, embracing the character’s many flaws without asking for any sympathy from the audience.
The play can feel a tad overstretched (running just under two and a half hours), but in an age where pure fluff seems to dominate the Great White Way, it’s worth the effort to stretch our attention for a play that both makes us think and guffaw.