Photo by Ken Howard/SCRIn the wake of Sept. 11, now probably isn't the best time to criticize New York's finest. But while the only hissable character is a cop, Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero at South Coast Repertory isn't really about police corruption. As the title suggests, the protagonist is a common man—the kind of guy you might find in a lobby—and the play looks at the conflicts between loyalty and friendship when a murder is committed.
The man in the lobby is Jeff (Kevin Corrigan), a fumbler in life; his current ambition is to move into his own apartment. His supervisor, William (T.E. Russell), hired him as a "project." Slump-shouldered and with an annoying talent for meandering conversation, Jeff works the graveyard shift as a security guard, sitting for long hours watching over the spacious lobby of a high-rise (Tony Fanning's comfortably middle-income set). Besides William, Jeff regularly sees veteran police officer Bill (Simon Billig) and his rookie partner, Dawn (Tessa Auberjonois).
And while sexual politics between the officers complicate matters, Lonergan places more emphasis on how one lie—no matter how benignly devised—can unravel good intentions and warp lives. The plot machinations seem contrived, yet there's no denying Lonergan's talent for dialogue that quickly changes from serious to humorous. Director Olivia Honegger deftly handles these slips and reverses. Some pauses seem overly long, but most make Jeff's blatherings more appropriately bothersome.
Opening weekend, the cast tripped over some lines, but their performances were still strong and their timing was good, garnering laughs at all the appropriate places. Corrigan gives Jeff a certain nebulous charm, contrasting nicely with Billig's slippery morality of self-interest. As William, Russell shines with earnest concern and honesty, while Auberjonois' lady cop burns with self-righteous anger.
Like Lonergan's movie You Can Count On Me, this play doesn't have a tidy ending. There is a climactic life-changing event, but although lives are redirected, no one is really transformed. Jeff's heroics are mostly unintentional. Lonergan offers no easy answers, and this detailed, well-nuanced production convincingly explores the troubling gray areas of morality.
Lobby Hero at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Through March 24. $27-$52.