'Lobby Hero' at Blank Canvas Sparks Important Inner Dialogue

'Lobby Hero' at Blank Canvas Sparks Important Inner Dialogue
Photo by Andy Dudik

Lobby Hero

Through Sept. 7 at Blank Canvas Theatre, 1305 West 78th St.

440-941-0458, blankcanvastheatre.com

As Christopher Vogler once wrote, "every villain is a hero of his or her own story."

Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons — or at least that's what we tell ourselves. Each and every one of us has developed a set of core principles that, if followed, classifies us as a "good person." Some of them are simple: Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't harm others. But what happens when egos, personal ambition and emotions threaten those principles we hold so dear?

This question is explored by four conflicted blue-collar workers in Kenneth Lonergan's play Lobby Hero. With fine direction and authentic acting, Blank Canvas Theatre's production of the show is a poignant commentary on how the choices we make in response to harsh realities of the world make us the heroes or villains of our stories.

The four blue-collar workers in question are characters whose job it is to keep others safe. Two are apartment building security guards and two work as cops. One of the former, Jeff, is a 27-year-old with tons of ambition and, according to others, lots of potential. But his ambition doesn't coincide with his progress.

His well-to-do boss, William, has his life together. He manages the security team of a middle-income, high-rise New York apartment building, the lobby of which is realistically rendered by designer Patrick Ciamacco. Along with the checkered lobby floor and sliding elevator door, Ciamacco also designed the New York soundscape that backs some of the action.

William's life is stable until his brother is arrested for murder and falsely claims he was with William on the night of the crime. William explains the situation to Jeff, placing them both in a sticky situation.

The story becomes more complex when the married, veteran cop Bill frequents the building to spend time with, shall we say, "a special friend." He does this on the clock, forcing his rookie partner, Dawn, to wait in the lobby with Jeff and question the ethics of others in her profession.

Playwright Lonergan, who won an Oscar in 2017 for penning Manchester by the Sea, excels in narratives that focus on the everyday person faced with an ethical dilemma. Dreams, musings, stories of the past and aspirations for the future are sprinkled throughout the dialogue. This is handled well under the direction of Anne McEvoy. Her cast delivers lines in a wonderfully realistic fashion, resulting in a show that pulses with an underlying current of authenticity.

Benjamin Gregg plays Jeff with a young and innocent mentality. Jeff never knows when to shut up, and due to the lonely nature of his position, he takes every chance he has to speak with others. With small outbursts, self-deprecating jokes and sarcastic remarks, Gregg brings humor to the stage. His portrayal of a boy in a rut that he desperately wants to get out of is incredibly endearing.

Darius Stubbs is just as believable in his role as security captain William. Stubbs is both stoic and empathy-worthy. This is especially true when William contemplates lying for his brother, something he would never consider were it not for his brother's overworked court-appointed lawyer. Other ethical complications arise because of the prejudices aligned against African-American men, further complicating William's decision.

Lobby Hero also touches on other societal prejudices, such as sexism. Kelly Strand plays the young, eager rookie cop Dawn, who encounters sexism daily. Her coworkers and the citizens she's sworn to protect, including Jeff, see her femininity before they see her navy-blue police uniform that's supplied by designers Katie Simón Atkinson and Jill Kenderes. Strand plays Dawn with a doe-eyed naïvete and goodwill that is slowly hardened and replaced by ferocity.

Her partner, Bill, is played by James Alexander Rankin. Bill sees Dawn as a small, helpless girl who would benefit from being under his wing, under his thumb and in his bed. The mustachioed and fantastically authoritative Rankin is at one minute trusted and in the next despicably manipulative.

The small Manhattan lobby and the space on the sidewalk just outside transform from the commonplace to a space where ethical issues are confronted. With the exception of Bill, the characters of Lobby Hero are genuinely good people who become involved in a sticky web of lies and compliance that mostly aren't of their own making.

The play was originally performed off-Broadway in 2001 and received a short-lived revival starring Chris Evans and Michael Cera in 2018. The show's discussions of sexism, racism and police abuse of authority is sure to feel more resonant in 2018 and 2019 than it would have in 2001. The issues raised in this show are close to home — for some more than others — and need to be addressed. What Lobby Hero does so well is establish real-life, believable characters. When they're suddenly faced with an ethical dilemma, you will begin to ask yourself, "What would I have done?" Blank Canvas' show is sure to spark a thoughtful inner dialogue.

In Lobby Hero, we see that the lies we tell ourselves can be powerful. And when faced with making a decision that questions our core principles, it's much easier to believe we're doing the wrong thing for the right reasons than to think we're the villains of our stories.

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