Unit 102 Actors Company’s Lobby Hero strikes the perfect balance at The Theatre Machine in Toronto
Lobby Hero is the first show put on by Unit 102 Actors Company in the newly re-branded venue, The Theatre Machine. Hot on the heels of their intense production of American Buffalo comes this very funny and occasionally poignant tale of a laid back security guard who just wants to “do the right thing.”
That particular phrasing sounds bland and painfully conventional. It conjures up the sort of slacker-hero worship that pops up frequently in American comedies. That is, a twenty-something, straight,white dude who just doesn’t quite have his act together, whose struggles will (ostensibly) inspire himself and others!
But Kenneth Lonergan isn’t Kevin Smith (not a fan here), and his play isn’t interested in the generic laughs and sentimentality that comes with this familiar trope. Nor does it content itself with making its main character endearing by surrounding him with outrageously despicable people so that he looks good by comparison.
Lonergan’s script is sharp, and it slices into this piece of Americana to explore resonant and relevant ideas like personal responsibility, the plight of women in male-dominated professions and police corruption. And it does this without ever seeming heavy-handed.
So what actually happens here? A slacker security guard gets caught up in some moral ambiguities after his boss, in a vulnerable moment, reveals his intention to commit perjury after his brother is accused of a violent crime. An overly cocky yet endearing cop and his rookie partner are there to investigate, and each of them has their own baggage they bring to table.
The details of the crime are horrendous, as is some of the behaviour we witness, but Lobby Hero takes it all in stride. The direction and performances matter-of-factly present both the mundane and the brutal. Cruelty exists side-by-side with goofiness, and it never feels as if gears are being shifted. It’s sometimes tense, sometimes heartwarming, but everything feels immediate and alive.
The cast is top notch, as individuals and a team, and they’ve got a dynamic chemistry that pulled me in without my noticing. A well told-story will do that: you don’t quite realize you’re invested until a certain moment, and then… bam! There you are, laughing at the shenanigans, when suddenly you get sucker punched and you realize you really care about these people.
All four performers are honest and charismatic, though I’d like to call out Luis Fernandes’ turn as a bully cop. The other three are more obviously sympathetic, and not so guilty of outright douchebaggery. The script affords this guy the satisfaction of “justifying” his behaviour. These justifications, if not handled with such finesse, could seem affected, but Fernandes is sincere and vulnerable enough to convince me. I actually believe this guy is, just like everyone else here, struggling to understand what’s right.
The action takes place in the lobby of a Manhattan apartment building and the adjacent street. The seating is arranged in a way that offers you two possible vantage points. I have no issue with craning my neck to catch things that aren’t easy to see; it’s the sort of immersive theatrical environment that thrills me, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So, if you don’t want any of the outside action obscured, you can seat yourself facing the large window.
The play finishes with a music cue that is somewhat over-the-top; I haven’t read the play, so it may be specified in the script, but I have a feeling it is a distinctly directorial choice. I was caught off guard by the goofiness of it, and was afraid it would undermine the drama I’d just witnessed. While it is a funny gag, it struck a deeper chord with me. The moment is undeniably stirring despite its silliness, and seems to be the perfect thematic capper. So, David Lafontaine (director), if that was you, it was a bold choice and I think it hits the mark.
This production is funny, hard-hitting and entirely entertaining; as if these qualities weren’t enough, the performances also capture our strained relationship with morality. It is both an intellectual enterprise and an embodied phenomenon, and this production handles this duality with humour and grace.
- Lobby Hero plays until November 8 at The Theatre Machine (376 Dufferin)
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8PM (No shows October 26-28 and November 2-4)
- Tickets prices: $25 (at the door), $20 (advance), PWYC October 22 and 29.
- Tickets can be purchased at the door reserved in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Jesse Ryder and Antonio Cayonne provided by the company.