Heroes stand divided in University Theatre’s “Lobby Hero,” an intensely personal and character-driven play about the thin line between right and wrong. An evocative script by Kenneth Lonergan pushes the performance through interesting scenarios and some well-executed laughs, and the KU troupe directed by Seok-Hun Choi delivers the message intact.
Four professional protectors make up the populace of “Lobby Hero”: Jeff and William serve as security guards in a New York apartment building, and Dawn and Bill are police officers who occasionally drop by. The entire play takes place within the lobby of the building, where conflict brings forth their beliefs on morality and authority.
The quartet get tangled in a web of dilemmas. William’s offstage brother gets into big trouble with the law. William (Taylor Geiman) tries to cover for him by providing an alibi, as well as bribing Bill the cop (Matthew Windheuser) to get his brother out of the mess. William and Bill get along well; they both possess a general distrust for the court system, for Law (with a capital L). They believe in loyalty to family and friends, to those who would watch out for them much more than the Law or any other institution.
On the opposite side of the line stand Jeff (James Benjamin Wearing) and Dawn (Jacquelyn Koester). Jeff and Dawn are more idealistic than their partners — they have faith in the strength of good deeds and solid morals.
The conflict of the play comes in a struggle for power. Jeff sits at the front desk of the apartments and knows a lot of what goes on — including William’s punishable acts of behalf of his brother and Bill’s on-duty visits to a prostitute. This gives Jeff power, and he has the urge to exercise it, but the personalities of William and Bill are an intimidating force. In a discussion about Jeff’s future, William asks,
“What is your forte?”
“I don’t have one,” Jeff responds, then guesses, “…losing money?”
Jeff balances voicing his beliefs with keeping his mouth shut, and this becomes more complicated by his crush on Dawn, with whom he feels kinship and shares (for this play) a rare common ground.
The four-person play demands sustained intensity from its cast. Geiman plays a serious, brooding William and his ally, Windheuser, also fills the stage with a confident cop-swagger, a nonchalant and veteran attitude. Koester plays a feisty but endearing Dawn. The script makes for some lively characters — they are dealt snappy lines and many moments hinge on Jeff’s (Wearing’s) delivery, and he acts sufficiently, but is more often than not overshadowed by the other robust personalities on stage. A more creative, more colorful, more emphatic Jeff would make the play.
The lighting is subtle; stealthy changes affect the mood of certain scenes, and the costuming works well except for Dawn’s strangely placed sidearm and the occasional accidental nightstick clunk.
With a decent cast, an inventive script and direction that sustains intensity, the play mostly communicates what “Lobby Hero” gets at: the importance of those rare moments when we are forced to choose whether to do a good deed or be a good friend.
Additional showtimes are 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, all at the Inge Theatre. Tickets are $15, with discounts for students, faculty and senior citizens.