Jeremy Luke’s tour-de-force performance as lovable lug Jeff anchors Theatre 68’s thoroughly winning revival of Lobby Hero, Kenneth Longeran’s coming-of-age-in-four-nights comedy that held me spellbound for over two-and-a-half hours.
A uniformed security guard (don’t call him a doorman) at a middle-income Manhattan high-rise apartment building, late-‘20s Jeff is the kind of guy who brags about his ability to feign reading the paper while actually taking an on-duty snooze, the kind of guy who lacks the motivation to get past even the first two of The Six Habits Habits Of Motivated People, the kind of guy who’s proud of just being able to hold on to a steady job for the nine-months-and-counting he’s been manning his lobby station.
Then again, as Jeff explains to his by-the-numbers “captain” William (Jonté LeGras), no older than our hero but considerably more advanced in his career, at least he’s bounced back from the bit of “bad luck” that got him kicked out of the Navy for smoking pot while on guard duty. (“It was bad luck that I got caught.”)
Still, if things continue according to plan, it won’t be long before Jeff can pay off the debt he owes his brother and move into his own apartment, and that at least is a start.
Meanwhile, Jeff must prove himself to William, which means making sure that local police officer Bill (Eddie Alfano) signs in even when popping by on a “social call,” code for his afternoon sex romps with “actress or model or something” Mrs. Heinvold, visits which Bill’s young new female partner Dawn (Gabrielle Walsh) would be none too pleased to hear about given her own secret (if still fairly recent) love affair with the married cop. (That it’s pretty much love at first sight for Jeff from the moment he lays eyes on the pretty-in-dark-blue Dawn further complicates our Lobby Hero’s life.)
If William is in a bit surlier a mood tonight than usual, it’s with good reason. His “selfish, fucked-up” brother has gotten himself arrested for allegedly having participated in the assault-rape-murder of a nurse who’d caught him and a couple of his thug buddies in the act of stealing hospital pharmaceuticals, then claimed to have been with William at the movies at the time of the crime, and now wants his brother to corroborate his lie.
Should William perjure himself on behalf of a ne’er-do-well sibling because “I don’t believe he’d ever do anything that fuckin’ heinous”? Should Bill go out on a limb as a character witness for William? Should Dawn blow the whistle on her partner’s illegal on-duty hanky-panky considering that she herself is in hot water for allegedly having used excess force on a man several times her size while attempting to break up a drunken barroom brawl? And last but not least, should Jeff man up and reveal his knowledge that William is lying about his brother’s alibi even if it could mean losing the one thing he’s proud about in his life—his job?
There are just some of the moral conundrums that add weight to as delightful and laugh-filled a comedy as you’re likely to see any time soon.
Director Joe Palese has done a bang-up job fine-tuning his cast-of-four’s terrific performances, though as the old adage goes, 90% of Palese’s directorial duties were complete the second he secured the services of Alfano, LeGras, Walsh, and above all Luke to bring playwright Lonergan’s colorful characters to life.
Alfano’s Bill is a cop you do not want to get tangled up with, a consummate liar (hey, he almost had me believing he wasn’t upstairs screwing Mrs. Heinvold), and a man who will do whatever it takes to come out on top, but you couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend when the chips are down, and all of this is part of Alfano’s electric, charismatic, richly-layered performance.
Walsh does pitch-perfect work as a police rookie who may just have gotten herself in above her head, but is someone we want to see triumph, as much as anything because Walsh is so darned likable in the role, and just wait till Dawn shows up out of uniform to find yourself dazzled … and then some.
LeGras follows his dynamic, nuanced work in Theatre 68’s The Idiot Box this past spring with his engaging turn as William, a man seemingly born without a sense of humor and therefore just the right straight man to jokester Jeff.
Still, all this splendid supporting work would be for naught without a superstar Jeff, and Luke is that superstellar spellbinder in a performance of such unstoppable zest, zing, and zip that the rising young Hollywood GoodFella-type will have you from the very first moment he grins that Cheshire cat grin and keep you on his side no matter how constantly our hero seems to goof up.
Scenic designer Danny Cistone has converted the smaller NoHo Arts Center space into a believably old-world-elegant lobby, elevator and all, and the fact that Cistone’s set doubles on weekends as Dracula’s castle is testimony to the design whiz’s gifts, as is his mood-setting, focus-shifting lighting design. Sound and costume designs, both uncredited, are topnotch as well, with special kudos to the production’s combination of street noises and rap, a security-guard uniform that makes the buff Luke look as if his midsection has gone to the dogs, and a gorgeous flowered frock that rumor has it is part of Walsh’s personal collection. (Talk about a knack for fashion.)
Lobby Hero is produced by Ronnie Marmo, Luke, and Alfano. Adam Daniel is stage manager.
I’m told that leading man Luke has been wanting to star in Lobby Hero for years now, and no wonder. If ever there were a part he was born to play, Jeff is that role.
Check out Theatre 68’s midweek staging of Lobby Hero and you too will rejoice that he’s been given the chance to do just that.
October 7, 2015
Photos: Adam Daniel