Loyalty and integrity are up for examination in Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero. Seattle Public Theater's new production of the play almost achieves theatrical nirvana thanks to some of the most detailed acting of the year. A key casting mistake makes for a tedious evening with enormous potential to electrify.
Set in the lobby of a Manhattan apartment complex, Lobby Hero follows four civil servants as they struggle with moral dilemmas that threaten their futures. Lonergan questions our tendency to hold our idols on a pedestal despite their human flaws. A murder cover up is the center of this rich play about race, sex, and social status. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Lonergan stresses the unpredictability that can frequent any normal day. The truths that we carry with us can easily be turned upside down. What is the right thing to do when you find your hero represents everything you deplore? In a city with a history for questionable police ethics, Lobby Hero remains insanely topical.
Under the direction of Rita Giomi, this Lobby Hero has all the potential in the world. A casting error makes for an uneven evening full of some thrilling highs and some tragic lows. Giomi has cast three of Seattle's most capable performers, but it is the performance of Connell Brown Jr. that holds this production back again and again. A capable performer, Brown gives a stiff, mechanical performance as head security guard William. He never seems as present, passionate, or involved as his acting partners. He simply appears to be going through the motions. He moves and speaks with a rehearsed quality that doesn't suit the material or this production.
This casting blunder creates a perfect opportunity to discuss a dilemma plaguing the fringe stages of Seattle (and a few equity houses too). All too frequently, unbalanced performances prevent potentially great shows from shining. Mesmerizing performers are forced to execute their craft next to green actors who are unable to bring the same ease to the table. With a city full of thespians galore, this dilemma can easily be solved at the casting table. When students perfecting their craft and veterans at the top of their game act side by side, there is an unevenness that is hard to ignore.
Brown's performance looks so out of place thanks to the stellar work of Evan Whitfield, Sharia Pierce, and Roy Stanton. Their organic approach makes the material glow. The fabulous trio easily negotiates Lonergan's frequent transitions between comedy and drama. This Lobby Hero walks the line between farce and tragedy.
Whitfield is positively charming as rent-a-cop Jeff. He offers a dense performance that gives voice to the countless civil servants with thankless jobs. While his energy dips in his scenes with Brown, he recovers quickly. As NYC cops Bill and Dawn, Stanton and Pierce give truly electrifying performances. They fill their tricky relationship with a rich history full of delicious subtext. Stanton's Bill is equal parts charming and loathsome. He seamlessly transforms himself from protagonist to antagonist. Pierce gives a riveting master class in balancing naturalistic and stylistic acting. She is the moral center of this production, throwing herself into her assignment with a fearless tenacity.
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