PILLOW TALK Westgate and Church. [Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.]
He’s in the metaphorical entryway of life, stuck and dissatisfied, going nowhere. That’s the title character of the ironically named Lobby Hero, by Kenneth Lonergan, which is getting a terrific production at 2nd Story Theatre (through October 6), directed by Ed Shea. It’s the first play being presented in the new DownStage space, which is half the size of UpStage — 70 seats steeply raked down to a stage the width of a double car garage; it’s designed for intimate works that would be swallowed up in the larger forum.
Lobby Hero is a tale of a little man who keeps his little life in parentheses. That may sound pathetic, but he’s not. Jeff (Jeff Church) is a chipper kind of guy, a one-man glee club. He’s 27, single, renting a room with his brother’s family, and buzzing people into a New York City apartment building. He starts at midnight on the graveyard shift, so his buzzer finger doesn’t get much exercise. A dreamer rather than a doer, he’d love to land a job using his sense of humor to write ads, but he has as much chance as becoming a brain surgeon. His father was a Navy man hailed as a hero for rescuing 23 trapped men from a sinking ship after everyone else fled. Jeff went into the Navy and was tossed out for smoking pot. Sigh.
His boss is William (Marlon Carey), a by-the-book supervisor at the security agency that supplied their uniforms and shiny police-like shields. He’s strict but friendly, and likes Jeff but makes it clear that he would fire him in a heartbeat if he messed up. (Brief burst of tense background music, please.)
The two other characters are real cops. Bill (Ara Boghigian) can be friendly or stern, snapping into either mode with that internal command-presence switch they are supplied with at the police academy. He is a veteran temporarily partnered with a rookie still in her six-month probation period. Dawn (Valerie Westgate) is self-conscious and reticent, working on a glower to make up for her small stature. When Jeff asks if it’s true that female cops use their weapons more because they can’t overpower big bad guys, she says that’s a myth. But that’s ironic coming from her, since earlier that night when a bruiser was coming at her she hit him so hard with her nightstick that he was hospitalized.
Jeff has a crush on Dawn, but why would a policewoman be interested in a rent-a-cop who is no more than a glorified doorman? A cheerful disposition will get you only so far. Besides, she has her own crush, on her handsome partner, at least at the beginning.
Problems crop up, but not for Jeff, with his safely limited engagement with life. No, first it’s with William, whose integrity and values are tested when his trouble-prone kid brother is accused of being in on a horrific crime and needs William to give him a phony alibi; otherwise, a young black man who already has a police record has little chance in court. What’s a lifelong honest man to do? And then Dawn’s relationship with her partner gets shaky, but she needs to remain on his good side sp he will corroborate that the hospitalized bar brawler attacked her. The police code requires that she back him up in everything if she expects him, and everyone else at the cop shop, to back her up. Stay true to herself and sink, or accommodate to creeps and swim.