Every year I like to try and visit New York to see friends and see what’s on on Broadway. This year there was a hell of a tempting reason to cross the pond, my favourite superhero Chris – Chris Evans (aka Captain America) appearing in Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan at Second Stage at The Hayes Theatre. If you’ve been wondering why Evans has been entirely absent from the Avengers: Infinity War promotional tour (bar a tiny spot of New York based press) his commitment to this play is the reason.
Lobby Hero features a cast of four and plays out over three nights in the lobby of an apartment building in Manhattan. Jeff (Michael Cera) is the “lobby hero”of the title. He works as a security guard manning the building and overseeing all the comings and goings of the tenants therein. William (Brian Tyree Henry) is his boss, a righteous man with very firm opinions on how Jeff should be doing his job. Chris Evans plays Bill, an entitled police officer who’s having a fling with one of the tenants while Bel Powley rounds out the cast as Dawn, Bill’s partner.
Michael Cera is fantastic as Jeff, the security guard who more often than not is asleep on the job who develops a fixation with Dawn. Jeff is sloppy and lazy and needs the money more than he wants the job but he’s someone we all easily identify with. After all who hasn’t contemplated whether there’s a way they can take a nap at their desk without being caught? Jeff is just trying to get out of a mountain of debt the best way he can. Cera brings a huge amount of warmth and humour to the role and his comic timing is impressive. He and Brian Tyree Henry play well off each other. Cera even managed to sell me on Jeff’s fondness for Dawn which I can assure you is not an easy feat. There is no trope I hate more in fiction than the over enthusiastic boundary crossing man who declares his undying love for a woman he has only just met and then relentlessly pursues her until at the end she caves in and he “wins” her. See pre Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually, the guys in The Big Bang Theory and any number of other examples in modern media. In reality, any guy that acted like that you’d run screaming but we’re meant to see it as endearing. So while I really truly loathe the trope it’s a testament to how charming Michael Cera is in the role that when he’s declaring his love to Dawn despite not actually knowing her name it comes across as sweet rather than creepy and terrifying. Jeff is indeed the hero of the piece, as he says himself at one stage he’s the “nicest guy in the story”, the only one that isn’t morally compromised.
Brian Tyree Henry has the hardest job as William. He’s the long suffering hard ass with the heart of gold who puts up with Jeff’s nonsense and suddenly finds himself in a hell of a moral quandary when asked to provide an alibi for his brother for a heinous crime that he may or may not have committed. Now I must confess the first time we watched (yes I saw it twice- if I’m getting on a plane I want quality Evans time) we had major audibility issues with Henry in that we just couldn’t hear 70% of what he was saying (perhaps he was ill). But in a front row seat the following day he was crystal clear and hugely impressive. It’s a tricky role – a character that is ultimately proven to be a hypocrite going through a long dark night of the soul trying to work out the best path to take in a no win scenario. He doesn’t get any huge monologues or massive emotional moments and yet the pain just emanates from him. We feel his anguish so clearly and care for his struggles.
Chris Evans is the very picture of toxic masculinity as Bill. Clad in a police uniform with a hugely unflattering buzz cut and 1970’s porn moustache (noone can ever say he doesn’t commit to the aesthetic) Bill is a swaggering douche bag. Top dog among his fellow police officers he’s used to doing what he wants, saying what he wants and sleeping with who he wants and woe betide anyone that gets in his way. He’s a deeply unpleasant character switching on a dime between genial swaggering charm and gentle flirtation with Dawn to insults and threats of sexual violence the micro second she falls afoul of him. Bill is every street harasser any woman ever met writ large – the one who switches from “hey beautiful” to threatening violence in under 30 seconds if you don’t give them attention. Evans is very good in the role – all wide smiles and surface charm while wooing Dawn and buddying up to William while physically intimidating Cera (who looks both twelve and tiny in comparison). It’s a small-ish role and while it would be fair to say it doesn’t exactly stretch Evans’ range (go watch Snowpiercer if you can find it to see what a superb actor he is) he acquits himself admirably.
Rounding out the cast is Bel Powley as Dawn. I’ll confess I wasn’t unduly surprised to discover at the end that she was a Brit – a lot of the time her accent sounded like me trying to do a Bronx accent (nobody needs to hear that). However she does the best she can with a slightly thankless role. Dawn is essentially there to be wooed and harassed and only “wins” by essentially throwing Cera’s character under a bus but she does get to verbally kick Evans’ ass in a scene which was met by enthusiastic applause.
The play is remarkably timely given its themes of sexual harassment and concerns over police treatment of African American youth and whether they can get a fair shake when it comes to criminal proceedings.
Evans is the marquee name but Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry are the stars. It’s also an example of a play that absolutely should be performed straight through with no intermission. I understand that Broadway doesn’t do that much (probably in order not to lose bar takings) but this is an intense piece that absolutely is not helped by an intermission. Performing straight through would have helped the momentum of the piece.
Lobby Hero is on at The Hayes Theatre until 13 May. To my slight surprise it’s not yet sold out so if you’re in New York looking for a bargain do check out the TKTS booth which often has tickets for it.