'Atlanta' star Brian Tyree Henry and Bel Powley also star in Kenneth Lonergan's thoughtful dramedy
Lobby Hero is indisputably set in a lobby — the nondescript foyer of a nameless New York City apartment building — though it’s not immediately clear who the hero might be, or if one exists at all in director Trip Cullman’s high-wattage production of Kenneth Lonergan’s clever, discursive 2001 dramedy.
The candidates are slim: Michael Cera’s chatterbox night watchman, Jeff; his brusque, bearish boss, William (Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry); anxious rookie cop Dawn (Bel Powley); and her alpha-dog partner, Bill (Chris Evans, in his Broadway debut). Then again, they’re also the only options; no one else appears in Lonergan’s sparely staged four hander, first premiered just a year after his lauded 2000 film debut, You Can Count on Me, and a decade and a half before he became a household name of sorts with Manchester by the Sea (which earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and a Best Actor trophy for Casey Affleck).
Lobby‘s talky quartet are knit together by several loose connective threads that draw tighter as the story unfolds. Jeff is young enough to still dream of something bigger than signing for packages, dusting the ficus, and napping behind a desk. He was a Navy man before getting ignominiously booted for smoking weed, and he thinks he could maybe work in advertising one day, if he could just make it out of his brother’s house in Queens. William is preoccupied by news of his own brother, the family deadbeat who may have moved on from petty crime to actual murder with the vicious killing of a young nurse in a pharmacy robbery. Dawn is the quintessential newbie, a big-eyed cadet who still wears her police uniform like a borrowed Halloween costume.
And it’s impossible, of course, to ignore the Marvel elephant in the room: Captain America himself, neatly transformed by a brush cut and an otter-sleek man-in-blue mustache. His Bill is a master manipulator, sexually voracious and casually cruel. But as thinly written as the role reads on the page, Evans makes him more than a swaggering caricature of white male privilege; even as he bullies and blusters, his layered take hints at the kind of inner battles and insecurities that Cera’s Jeff wears so guilelessly on his sleeve.
Jeff, the kind of guy who can’t have a thought that doesn’t immediately find its way out of his mouth, is a born beta who somehow still dominates the dialogue, riffing on his sexual fantasies (picture lady cops, an interrogation room, involuntary nudity), his career goals, and his blossoming crush on Dawn. Powley, so great onscreen in 2015’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, is shakier here in her anxious uptalk and outer-borough accent, only finding her stride late in the second act.
It’s Henry, with his murky moral dilemma — should he step in to offer his brother the alibi he’s begging for? — and low-key comic timing, who becomes the play’s least showy MVP. His family quandary is also what the plot turns on; its jerry-rigged tension eventually comes to a head in a revelation that feels more schematic than earned, and the stress points of race and sex and power the script touches on are only glancingly resolved. but Lobby is still a smart, thoughtful piece of work, fairy-dusted by the starry presence of its celebrated cast. B+