For their first full-length play, Icarus Theatre tackles Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero. Set in the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building and the adjoining street corner, two security guards get mixed up with a rookie cop and her saavy partner as a murder investigation unfolds. Their ethics are tested, flaws in the legal system are revealed, and the terms of our precarious social contract prove to be uncomfortably amorphous.
Lonergan’s play requires a delicate tonal balance. Some moments play out almost like farce; but the moral dilemmas are complex and the story wrestles with genuinely heavy ideas such as personal responsibility, the plight of women in male-dominated professions and police corruption. It fluctuates between laid back, rambling humour and high stakes tension—a sort of Kevin Smith-David Mamet hybrid.
The small ensemble cast has charismatic individuals with authentic chemistry flowing between them, but this ambitious production has a number of weak spots that strain our credulity.
When we first meet our lobby hero, a security guard named Jeff (Anthony Goncharov), he’s a little much, but likeable enough. A bit of a slacker, he seems to be coasting through his late twenties, but there are clues to a fraught inner life. He’s reading on the job, sure, but it’s Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He accosts people with idle chatter yet there are thorny human questions lurking in even the most mundane small talk. Goncharov is very endearing in the role and I was easily taken in by his breezy, clever vibe.
Two neighbourhood cops—Bill (Connor Briggs) and Dawn (Emily Anne Corcoran)—provide an unsettling glimpse into the police force as an old boys club. Lonergan’s script sets them up as somewhat goofy caricatures, but all their posturing gradually gives way to more nuanced behaviour.
Playing up his self-appointed role as Dawn’s noble protector, Bill’s condescension seems flirtatious and affectionate. When his status is threatened, the facade drops and reveals a sleazeball bully. Briggs is a genuinely unnerving presence and most compelling in his moments of unfiltered aggression.
At first blush, Dawn seems skittish and ill-prepared for the rigours of the job. When her timid idealism is shattered, she becomes just as ruthlessly opportunistic as Bill when circumstances align in her favour. Corcoran, too, is most captivating when she is forced to go on the offensive.
The most consistently riveting performance is from Matthew G Brown as Jeff’s conflicted supervisor, William. The light, work-a-day storyline turns dark as he confides in Jeff that his brother has gotten himself into some severe trouble. He is under pressure to provide an alibi, but the details of the crime are quite atrocious, so his dilemma is great. As a Black man, with the spectre of a legal system skewed against him, we understand his reluctance to let his struggling brother fall into it’s maw.
Liam Eric Dawson’s direction is most effective when he allows the interactions to unfold without much theatrical emphasis. And there are plenty of quietly distinctive moments—a sly hand on a knee; an offbeat, intriguing moment with a Rubik’s cube—but he relies too often on unmotivated blocking. Poignant monologues are undermined by self-conscious, stagey delivery. And a theatrical pet peeve of mine: characters awkwardly perched on the edge of furniture—in this case, a desk.
Unnecessarily, Dawson and lighting designer Carley Melvin highlight key moments with a gentle spotlight, the general wash dimming around it. It’s relatively subtle, but still rather inappropriate for the style of the performance. The cool look of the exterior scenes, though, do add effective visual contrast and help sell the separation.
The biggest drawback for me is the set. Naomi Daryn Boyd has given it ample character. The tacky yellow pattern of the walls has a certain garish charm; but the flimsy, hand-crafted look feels distractingly artificial. The elevator door is particularly uncomfortable as the actors must manually operate it, the surrounding set wobbling in the process. The standard wood panel door that serves as the main entrance to this lobby also looks incongruous.
I imagine the company’s resources were limited; in this situation, attempting realism was unwise. I think an imagined set with mimed entrances—though a more overtly stylized concept—might have been less distracting. Sound designer Bjorn Kriel provides some convincing urban noises to open each act—a nice touch that could have been incorporated more fully into the action to help sell the world.
Though their restricted production values significantly compromise this company’s intentions; overall, the performances do hit the important marks.