Even by Hollywood-meets-New York standards, the production of Lobby Hero at Broadway’s newly renovated Hayes Theatre is an impressive crossover affair. Written by Kenneth Lonergan 15 years before his Manchester by the Sea triumph, starring Michael Cera, Chris Evans (in a really terrific Broadway debut), Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry and The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s Bel Powley, the lines outside the theater on any given night are a foregone conclusion.
But Lobby Hero is no gimmick event, its no-weak-link casting anything but a stunt – strong enough, in fact, to merit serious Tony consideration. A fine and funny drama when it debuted Off Broadway in 2001, the play hasn’t so much aged as grown into itself and the world around it. That’s good news for the theater, not so much the world.
At once intimate and encompassing, Lobby Hero, directed by Trip Cullman, takes no prisoners in its parsing of loyalty and betrayal, ambition and ethics, with detours into sexual harassment, police brutality and the awkward, nervous stirrings of what might be the grace of a new love.
Scared yet? Don’t be. Lobby Hero is also a treat, engrossing in its story-telling, and as generous with its laughs as you’d expect from Cera and mightn’t expect – shame on us – from Evans, Captain America himself.
Set entirely in (or just outside) the entryway of a Manhattan apartment building, the play follows a quartet of New Yorkers whose lives criss-cross in that most transitional of places – a lobby. Cera plays Jeff, a 27-year-old, wee-hours security guard trying to pull his life together after getting kicked out of the Navy for smoking pot. Apparently incapable of keeping his mouth shut for more than a few seconds or holding a job for much longer, he’s as happy as he allows himself to be for work that might afford him the chance to finally move out of the room he rents from his brother.
And he owes it all to William, the suffer-no-fools supervisor who took a chance on the kid, though he questions the decision with every wiseacre crack the seemingly unserious Jeff is incapable of holding back. Despite their disparate backgrounds – William is a black man from the inner city streets, Jeff a suburban, white Army brat – the two have bonded over their late-night confidences.
Into their lobby swaggers beat cop Bill (Evans, sporting a bushy mustache that says it all) and his admiring young partner in crime-fighting Dawn (Powley). She’s three months into policing and full-on in love with her handsome, super-confident partner. They’ve slept together once, and she’s green enough to hope it means more to the married, charming Bill than even she deems likely.
What will prove more consequential for all concerned, though, is news that William’s brother has been arrested for murder. Secrets are told and spilled, friendships formed and betrayed, all on David Rockwell’s revolving set that shifts our perspectives as swiftly as each character’s latest screw-up.
Like Cera’s Jeff, Lobby Hero is mostly talk, and there are passages – some longer than others – when plotting demands far too much from conversation, even conversation as clever as the stuff Lonergan concocts (the reveal of one big secret is especially unconvincing).
Moments like those pass smoothly though, with Cera adding a degree or two of shrewdness to his now trademark awkwardness. Henry and Powley don’t miss a beat.
But Evans is the revelation here. As the manipulative “super cop” whose charm and good looks mask a ferocity that only gradually becomes apparent, Evans shades Officer Bill with just enough decency to keep him from turning into a Law & Order villain of the week. Sometimes you almost believe he’s the good guy he thinks he is.
With Lobby Hero, the longtime Off Broadway Second Stage nonprofit theater company moves to Broadway, and the play inaugurates its beautifully renovated Hayes Theater. The company chose its arrival wisely.