What do you do when the system is corrupt?
When the very people who are supposed to be upholding the law are not only bending it for their own purposes but breaking it for their own pleasure and amusement?
What do you do then?
Is the truth ever negotiable?
Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero,” playing at the Florida Repertory Theatre’s ArtStage Studio Theatre (through May 21) raises these questions and more.
The setting is the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building in the fall of 2002.
Set designer Ray Recht’s lobby screams with authenticity, from its faded checkerboard floor whose true colors are hard to determine to the plastic potted plants to the hotel/motel cityscape hanging inoffensively on the wall. His set, combined with Joel Zishuk’s stark lighting, makes this play look like what Edward Hopper might have painted in the 21st century: a lone security guard in the glass cage of an apartment lobby.
Sound designer Kati Lowe’s ambient street sounds — the whoosh of passing cars, distant sirens — help place you there in New York City without being overwhelming or intrusive.
Jeff (Michael Saguto) is trying to get his life together. The bumbling 27-year-old works the overnight shift as a lobby security guard, hoping to make enough money to move out of his brother and sister-in-law’s place in Queens.
Mr. Saguto plays his character superbly, a naive earnest jittering bundle of nerves who wants to say the right thing but so often says the opposite.
His boss, William (Dante Alexander), a Black man attempting to rise through the ranks, is a real law-and-order guy who fires shirkers and anyone he finds sleeping on the job. When we meet him, he seems so certain about what is the right thing to do; he’s a stickler for following the rules.
The two wind up clashing with two police officers who patrol their neighborhood: veteran cop Bill (Matt Monaco) and Dawn (Dana Stern) a rookie halfway through her six-month probation period. Dawn idolizes Bill but discovers he’s not all he claims to be. He’s an alleged “genius cop” whose name is on the list to get his gold shield, but he cuts corners and breaks the rules.
Mr. Monaco plays Bill as such a despicable human being that you can’t help but hate him. He rides roughshod over everyone, bullying them or lying to them. He has rage issues. He belittles his partner behind her back, calling her “a little girl wearin’ a cop uniform.” He’s a greasy kind of guy with a pornstache, full of unearned overconfidence. And it’s probably a sure thing that he’s in the pool at work, the one where the men are betting to see who can sleep with her first.
(As a theater companion said to me at intermission, “He’s so good in his role. He has all the women in this audience hating him.”)
Dawn, like Jeff, is young and desperately wants to do right, to do something good in life. A woman in a macho, boys’ club, she needs to prove herself on the job.
Over the course of a few days, their lives and desires become entangled. Characters are faced with moral dilemmas when reality clashes with their ideals, and each reacts differently. By the end of the play, we’re left with a giant knot they’ve all created.
Director Ron Lagomarsino has staged this well, even though most of the action takes place in the lobby, with a few scenes just outside, on the street. There’s not one false step or note within this play.
Though “Lobby Hero” had its debut 22 years ago, it is still, unfortunately, relevant. It deals with the issues of sexism and racism as well as corruption within our legal system and those policing us. But these issues are presented naturally, as things affecting the characters in the course of a murder investigation, and not as a heavy “message play.” We care what happens to these people.
There’s plenty of drama — and humor — in this production, as well as food for thought.