Thought-provoking `Lobby Hero' rises above a whodunit

CRITIC'S CORNER

September 29, 2005|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

On one level, Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, which takes place in the foyer of a low-rent Manhattan high-rise, is a conventional police drama. It could almost be an episode of NYPD Blue or Law & Order.

But on another level, the play - receiving a thought-provoking Baltimore premiere under Stephen B. Thomas' direction at the Top Floor Theatre - is so full of ethical quandaries and relative morality, it could be fodder for a philosophy seminar.

This isn't to suggest that Lobby Hero is a didactic script. Lonergan, whose credits include The Waverly Gallery (produced at Everyman Theatre in 2001) and the screenplay for You Can Count on Me, is a master at slice-of-life writing. And the characters in Lobby Hero - two cops and two security guards - come across as ordinary people trying to negotiate their way through a slippery, complex world.

At the center of the drama is Tim Elliott's affable portrayal of Jeff, a talkative, inquisitive but rather dim security guard. Working the night shift in this third-rate apartment building is actually a big break for Jeff, whose humdrum job is punctuated by nightly visits from his boss and a pair of beat cops.

Jeff has a crush on one of the cops, a rookie named Dawn, imbued by Laurel Burggraf with the steadfast determination of youth. Dawn initially rebuffs Jeff, but these two turn out to have a lot in common. Both are do-gooders, and both are perilously naive.

Interestingly, Lonergan gives his other two characters the same name. Jeff's boss is William, played by Manny Allbritton as a by-the-rules guy, and Dawn's partner is Bill, portrayed with credible bluster by Chris Poverman. William and Bill are older and more experienced, and at the start of the play, they have the respect of their younger colleagues.

Then everyone's fiber is tested, and both "Bills" turn out to have weaknesses. The event that prompts this is an offstage murder, for which William's brother has been arrested. The brother's only hope is a false alibi from William. If his brother is innocent, would William's lie be such a bad thing? But what if he's guilty?

One of the most intriguing aspects of Lobby Hero is that - unlike, say, the TV shows mentioned above - the play never reveals the brother's guilt or innocence. Easy answers are rare in real life, and Lonergan refuses to let audiences off easily, either. The result is a challenging drama that leaves you wondering not whodunit, but, what would I do?

Show times at the Top Floor, 5440 Harford Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 8. Tickets are $12. Call 443-691-7040.

`Radio Golf' in Seattle

August Wilson's plays have traditionally been produced and honed at regional theaters across the country before arriving in New York. Radio Golf, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's latest play, has just added another theater to its circuit.

The drama - about real estate developers in Pittsburgh in 1997 - will be staged at Seattle Repertory Theatre Jan. 19-Feb. 18. Wilson, who revealed in August that he has terminal liver cancer, lives in Seattle. The theater's Web site quotes artistic director David Esbjornson saying: "It seems imperative that Seattle Rep respond to the recent events in Mr. Wilson's life and support this beloved artist in any way possible."

Radio Golf debuted at New Haven's Yale Repertory Theatre in April and completed a seven-week run at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum this month. It will be produced at Center Stage March 24-April 30.

Producer Rocco Landesman, who is changing the name of Broadway's Virginia Theatre to the August Wilson Theatre in October, told The New York Times that he plans to bring Radio Golf to Broadway next season.

Bakula at Ford's

Scott Bakula - best known for his starring television roles in Star Trek: Enterprise and Quantum Leap - has been cast in the lead role of patriarch Charlie Anderson in the musical Shenandoah, at Washington's Ford's Theatre from March 17-May 21.

Bakula made his Broadway debut as Joe DiMaggio in the short-lived 1983 musical Marilyn: An American Fable; he was nominated for a 1988 Tony Award for his dual roles in the musical Romance/Romance. Set in Virginia during the Civil War, Shenandoah will be directed at Ford's by Jeff Calhoun, who staged last season's Big River. Tickets to Shenandoah go on sale Nov. 14.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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