Good Cop, Bad Cop

Review: Why 4th Wall Theatre Company’s Lobby Hero is the Best, Most Relatable Show of the Year

Kenneth Lonergan's 2001 play makes you forget you're not watching real life.

By Doni Wilson May 25, 2017

Lobby hero photo gabriella nissen 04 m1vied

Left to right: Chelsea Ryan McCurdy, Drake Simpson, and Adam Gibbs

The New York Apartment lobby that serves as the set of Lobby Hero is completely realistic—with umbrella stands, magazines, even a pencil holder compelling you to walk up and take a seat. I felt more like a voyeur observing real lives of quiet desperation than an audience member witnessing moral dilemmas unfold onstage.  And there are plenty of dilemmas.

Written by Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan, Lobby Hero features a quartet of intersecting lives in a “dramedy” that tackles serious issues with enough comic relief to make it both bearable and believable. Lobby Hero was so well done I didn’t really want it to end, and I am hoping (however fruitlessly) for a sequel. That’s how much I care about all these flawed and interesting characters.

First, we meet Jeff, the building's security guard, brilliantly played by Adam Gibbs. Jeff is a down on his luck ex-sailor trying to move out of his brother’s place, find a girlfriend, and achieve some new, limited version of the American Dream. Forget getting a house in the suburbs. How about just getting a little better off?

Jeff is the engine of the story, the everyman who made a relatively small mistake that had life-changing consequences. (He was caught smoking pot on duty and discharged from the military.) We all relate to this person: someone who blows it (literally and figuratively, in this case), yet is heroic enough to move forward.

With Jeff, Lonergan reminds us how we stereotype people every day. Not really in the politically correct ways that get most of the attention lately, but in the subtler ways that we label people as “losers” before we know their stories and their heartbreaks. From body language to comic timing, Gibbs is pure perfection in every demanding scene.

William, played by the excellent Joe Palmore, oversees the security guards. He runs a tight ship, but has trouble with the letter of the law when his brother is accused of a horrific crime. He must decide whether to lie and protect his brother, or to tell the truth—all in the context of a justice system that isn’t always so just. Palmore and Gibbs have wonderful on-stage chemistry, and the naturalness of their back-and-forth on topics ranging from quotidian to high stakes is a testament to Lonergan’s writing, as well as Kim Tobin-Lehl and Jennifer Dean's precise direction. 

Drake Simpson's Bill is a successful but manipulative cop visiting the lobby for his own reasons. Bill's dilemma, aside from addressing the truth of William’s situation, is his new partner, a rookie cop with whom he had more-than-professional relations. Jealousy enters the mix as Bill visits another woman upstairs in one of the building's apartments. Eliding the truth, whether about a crime or a visit to an apartment, is a persistent theme in this play. 

With her role as Bill's partner, Dawn, the versatile Chelsea Ryan McCurdy breaks her pattern of mostly comedic and musical roles. Yes, she can sing and dance, but her transformation into a tough-talking, heartbroken wannabe cop was so complete that I almost didn’t recognize her. Her accent, her put-out expressions, and her banter with Jeff is why I love crime shows so much; the crime itself is almost a technicality when you care about the people solving the crime.

Dawn's angst regarding her own poor decisions coupled with the sexual harassment issues creates a potent combination of drama and philosophy from the characters you might least expect it.  And that is Lonergan’s genius throughout: You don’t have to wander far to visit high drama.  It is waiting in the lobby you walk through every day.

Through June 3. Tickets from $29. 4th Wall Theatre Company, 1824 Spring St. 832-786-1849

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