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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Elyse Sommer
In another time, before musicals and revivals nudged dramas by new, young playwrights to the sidelines, Kenneth Lonergan's comedy-drama would have enjoyed a successful life on Broadway instead of a brief Off-Broadway run which, despite an extension spurred by enthusiastic reviews, received far less exposure than it deserved. Fortunately, Broadway's loss has proved to be regional theater organizations' gain and the play is continuing to win new admirers, especially when staged and performed as well as the production that opened at Barrington Stage last Saturday night.
I found my second encounter with Lonergan's likeable and somewhat loopy losers and their intertwined moral dilemmas as enjoyable as the first time. In a nutshell it's a point-counterpoint story of four uniformed workers — two employed by a private security firm and two part of the New York police force.
Each pair has a mentor figure and an ineffectual underling. A crime involving the brother of the private security captain's brother and the indiscretion of the senior cop jolt the uneventful shift of the doorman — oops, I mean the private security guard manning the lobby desk of a New York apartment house.
Dramatic choices and confrontations follow. Rather than repeat other details about the plot and characters, please click on that review here.
Actually, you could say I liked Lobby Hero even more the second time around since this viewing confirmed that it has the durability known in theater lingo as "legs." Even though the story and much of the dialogue have remained firmly entrenched in my memory, I didn't have a moment's sense of been there, done that.
Seeing the play while the nearby Tanglewood Music Festival is in full swing, underscored my original sense of it as a chamber music piece with duets, trios and occasional quartets to develop the colors and textures of what is more a group portrait than a star vehicle.
Director Rob Ruggiero has tapped into all the nuances that make what may at first appear like a cross between a television cop show and comedy sitcom, but in fact bears a much stronger resemblance to plays like David Mamet's American Buffalo. As Mamet's characters speak in what has entered the theatrical lexicon as Mamet-speak, so we have what will surely become known as Lonerganesque . Lonergan's mixed-up philosophers talk about life in the screw-up lane that encourages the speakers to embroider their words with their own distinctive body language.
With a raised eyebrow here, a drooped shoulder there, a knowing yet questioning grin always at the ready, Andrew Benator, the current Jeff, proves himself a master of Lonerganesque. Benator, like Glenn Fitzgerald before him, proves that this is a star vehicle for any actor with the star power to capture the irrepressible obnoxiousness and goofy charm of this nobody yearning to be somebody. This despite the fact that the part was written for Mark Ruffalo who became identified with Lonergan screw-up types in This Is Our Youth and the film You Can Count On Me.
Curtis McClarin, as Jeff's supervisor, William, is a perfect straight-arrow to Benator's slouching towards a future of waking up in a lobby similar to the one he's in but with everyone calling him "Pops." I'd go to see any play featuring either of these two terrific actors.
David Paluck is full of fire as the the cop who is, as Jeff puts it "a total scumbag." He is too macro-macho, however, to completely capture the smart, well-intentioned cop underneath the self-indulgent bad (as in bad Bill Clinton) Bill.
Ruggiero has wisely directed Nicole Alifante not to overdo Dawn's Newyawkese. Like her character, Alifante makes the most of her big scene, the moment when she has the chance to turn the table on the emotional blackmail she has endured from her senior partner — and grabs it.
Set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella has done a good job of framing the lobby set to avoid the Consolati stage from overwhelming the play's basic intimacy. The set per se is pretty much a re-creation the apartment house lobby I recall from the original production, complete with an elevator to take the horny Bill to the apartment of a lady with more than the usual number of male visitors (If you sit far back or on the right side, you'll only hear the door opening and closing but no matter since the action is all center stage). The only noticeable addition is the American flag that's been pasted to the front of so many lobby doors since 9/11.
The ice box elements, those unanswered loose ends that you don't notice until you're home and getting a snack from the refrigerator, are still there. People leave the theater less involved with snacks or dinner than talking about these characters. But then that's the kind of play this is. Lots of laughs while you're watching it. Plenty do discuss when it's over.
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