- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

''Lobby Hero," Kenneth Lonergan's play now in repertory at Studio Theatre, is a richly tangled tale of four people struggling to balance obligation and self-interest.

In the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building functionally ugly with its impersonal furniture and outdated decor (designed by Daniel Conway) the play brings together:

•A security guard on the graveyard shift who's trying to put his rocky past behind him. He's found modest salvation in his job and the chance to move into an apartment of his own.

•A supervisor who believes in responsibility and following rules, but who must decide whether to help his brother, who's suspected of a serious crime.

•A beat cop in line for a big promotion who's revered by the community and his colleagues, but who has taken advantage of his image as "supercop" to romance his partner.

•His female partner, a rookie officer who injured a drunk while protecting herself in a bar brawl and needs her partner to back up her version of what happened.

Each character treads that murky plain between intention and action, the possible and the actual where most lives unfold less idealistically than the people living them would like.

Jeff (Jason Schuchman)has been working as a front-desk security guard for nine months, getting up on his feet after being kicked out of the Navy. Jeff's a bit of a clown, a good-hearted joker who tries the patience of his boss, William (Clark Jackson).

William wears the crown of captain heavily, telling Jeff: "If you stick to the rules, then you never have to have a discussion about whether or not you were justified not sticking to the rules." Uncompromising in his expectations, William fired one guard who was just months from retirement for falling asleep on his shift. But William likes Jeff and encourages him.

Their relationship is a give-and-take of admiration and influence: Jeff, determined to justify William's faith in him, cleans up the desk area and makes sure the guest log is updated.

William loans Jeff books on self-improvement and scolds him to be more serious about his life. He also confides in Jeff about his brother, who's been in trouble with the law and wants William to give him an alibi.

The mentor-protege relationship is echoed by the police officers.

Bill (Daniel Cantor) has done more good than anyone else on the force, Dawn, his rookie partner, tells him.

The officers stop by the apartment building so Bill can visit a "friend," after a brawl in which Dawn (Tina Frantz) used her nightstick to take down a drunk.

Bill assures Dawn she handled the situation like a pro and tells her not to sweat the investigation.

Dawn, as dewy-eyed as a cop with a dead-on New Yawk accent can seem, revels in Bill's praise.

Left alone with Dawn, Jeff reveals his affection and admiration for her in a rambling flood of earnestness. He also spills it that Bill's friend is a woman who has a lot of gentleman callers.

That's when "Lobby Hero" really takes off, when everyone has an angle to exploit and a duty to honor.

Under director J.R. Sullivan, the play is like a powerful locomotive running smoothly on its tracks toward its inevitable destination. Deeply funny observances and small talk temper its heft.

Mr. Schuchman's Jeff is endearingly unguarded, a bundle of nervous habits with his quick blinking and jumping Adam's apple. He seems so much younger than his 26 years.

As Dawn, Miss Frantz is believable as the tough, unfazed cop but there's no concealing her anger and pain when she becomes a woman scorned.

Mr. Cantor captures all the cock-of-the-walk charisma of a man who does a dangerous job well, but he gives Bill genuine humanity. He cares about the people he has sworn to protect and his fellow cops.

Troubled and conflicted, Mr. Jackson's William is lost when his belief in the way things are supposed to work is shaken.

None of these characters can extract themselves from the web of circumstance holding them together in "Lobby Hero," a complex and demanding morality play.


***1/2

WHAT: "Lobby Hero"

WHERE: The Studio Theatre, 14th and P streets NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays (May 28 and June 4) through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 23.

TICKETS: $29.50 to $43.50

PHONE: 202/332-3300MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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