BWW Reviews: 2nd Story Opens New Space with Funny, Thoughtful LOBBY HERO
As a theater company grows in success and reputation, expansion is to be expected. Whether it's growth into new and different types of productions, educational programs or physical spaces, change is only natural. For 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, growth and expansion have arrived this season, in the form of a new, smaller, more intimate space downstairs in their Market Street home. For the first show in the new downstairs space, they have chosen Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, which turns out to be a mostly pleasing and very safe way to begin the life of a new theatrical stage.
By "safe," I mean that Lonergan's play is nothing particularly risky, edgy, unexpected or dangerous. It covers pretty well-worn territory as it tells the story of a security guard named Jeff who mans the desk at a New York City high rise apartment building. As Jeff bides his time, trying to slowly but surely work towards making something of his life, he interacts with his supervisor, William, and two local cops, Bill and Dawn. When William becomes involved in a crime his brother may or may not have committed, Jeff becomes involved as well, and his goal of trying to do the right thing becomes a lot more complicated.
The first problem with Lonergan's script is that it takes a very, very long time to really get going. Once it finally picks up and things are moving along, it takes the audience into some very funny and very thought provoking situations. The other problem, though, is that they are situations that the audience has likely seen before, on television on any night of the week and in a million movies and other plays. Issues like truth, justice, honor and heroism are thrown around quite a bit as characters struggle with situational ethics. When is it ok to lie? Should we do so to protect someone we care about? Or should we always tell the truth? The audience is left to make the final judgments, which is as it should be.
At the heart of the play and the play's moral conundrum is Jeff, played here by Jeff Church. To say that he is the play's heart and soul would be to sell him very short. Although it is very early in the theatrical season, Church may have already given one of the year's best performances. His security guard is a fully fleshed out human being who the audience will laugh with, love, root for and cry for, over the course of the play. Church, who has flawless comic timing and delivery, handles every up and down and every moment with seeming ease.
It's unfortunate, though, that Lonergan hasn't populated the play with other characters who are as fully developed as Jeff. They are mostly just stereotypes, though the actors do a nice job with what they have given. Especially great is Ara Boghigian as Bill, one of the police officers. Boghigian has been hit-or-miss in past performances but here he really sinks his teeth into the role, with highly entertaining results. While the slimy, sleazy, dirtbag cop is a very familiar stereotype, Boghigian creates a scumbag who audiences will really enjoy watching and will love to hate.
Marlon Carey is fine as William, Jeff's supervisor. Again, it's not a well-developed or deeply explored character and Carey does the best that he can with it. He does have some nice moments as he believably struggles with whether or not to tell the truth about his brother's alleged crime. Finally, there is Valerie Westgate as Dawn, a character that can be summed up as a stereotype: young, female, attractive, rookie, cop. That's all there is to her, really. Westgate is ok in the role, but she doesn't have much to work with. The character isn't all that appealing and it's hard to tell if Westgate could have done anything more to make it a more sympathetic or appealing role.
Mention must be made, of course, of the new Downstage space at 2nd Story. To call it "intimate" wouldn't really be accurate. The steep slope of the seats, with the back rows pretty high above the stage, takes away a lot of the intimate feeling. It is still more of an up-close-and-personal feeling than the larger space upstairs and that is a great thing. It makes for much more immediate, direct and real theater, with performances that can't be faked or phoned in. While the set for Lobby Hero was not great, it will be interesting to see what they do with the space for future shows, especially considering the very high ceiling that brings with it lots of potential.
For now, a little bit of that potential has already been realized. The first production in their new space is undeniably a success, as evidenced by the audience's overwhelmingly positive response to the show. Lobby Hero is a funny, touching and thoughtful play that might not introduce audiences to any profound new ideas but it will perfectly introduce them to a great new place to see great theater.