Saturday, August 24, 2019

“Lobby Hero” at Blank Canvas asks, “What is the moral thing to do?”

Kenneth Lonergan is noted for writing about decent people who are unexpectedly challenged by issues of ethics.  In his “Lobby Hero,” now on stage at Blank Canvas, the 2016 Oscar winner for “Manchester by the Sea” specifically asks, “What happens when emotions come in conflict with principles.”

The play premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, closed, and reopened on Broadway shortly after.  A revival launched on Broadway in 2018.

One reviewer said of the Broadway production, "Lobby Hero is a fantastic play but I'd be hard pushed to say why. You can tell it's good because, within about five minutes, any sense you have of being a member of the audience, sitting down and watching a group of actors perform on stage, has vanished.”   I agree!

In “Lobby Hero” we observe as Jeff, (Benjamin Gregg) a young security guard, who was discharged from the Navy because he was using marijuana, working the night shift in a New York apartment building.  Jeff seems rudderless, lives with his brother and sister-in-law, and his big desire is to rent his own place. 

The job is boring.  Jeff spends his time looking at porno magazines, napping and attempting to read books.  His only regular contact is with William (Darius Stubbs), his supervisor, and Bill (James Alexander Rankin), a married New York policeman who regularly visits a prostitute who lives in the building.  One night, Bill is accompanied by Dawn (Kelly Strand), a rookie cop, who Jeff immediately fanaticizes as a potential girl-friend.

A series of incidents causes the plot to unroll. 

William reveals that his brother has broken into a hospital to steal drugs.  He and his friends killed a nurse, the mother of three children, who attempted to thwart the robbery. 

William, a moral man, shares with Jeff that his brother is trying to prove his innocence by claiming he was at the movies with William.  William is not sure whether to be his brother’s fake alibi. 

Dawn reveals that she has beaten a drunk man outside a restaurant when he resists arrest.  She also shares that she is being sexually harassed by Bill. When she finds out that Bill is spending time while on duty, with the prostitute, she threatens to tell the authorities.  Should she?

Jeff, who tends to babble, reveals to Dawn that William has shared with Jeff that he was not at the movie with his brother.  Should Dawn expose Jeff’s secret?

Lonergan’s writing takes us easily along the path of discovering “how good intentions can be undermined by unconscious desires” and asks over and over, “What is the moral thing to do?”

The Blank Canvas production is nicely paced and the characters clearly developed by director Ann McEvoy.

The cast is universally strong, nicely texturing their performances, creating real people, rather than developing caricatures. 

Patrick Ciamacco’s set and cleverly conceived sound designs help develop the production.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Lobby Hero” is a well-conceived script that gets a superior production at Blank Canvas.

“Lobby Hero “runs through September 7, 2019 at Blank Canvas, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland.   For tickets and directions go to

Next up at Blank Canvas, from September 13 & 14, is “The Who’s Tommy,” a benefit concert based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album. It is the story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb and blind boy.