Toronto’s Icarus Theatre Securely Ushers in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero”

Emily Anne Corcoran, Anthony Goncharov, and Connor Briggs in Kenneth Lonergan’s  Lobby Hero. Photo courtesy of Icarus Theatre Productions.

The Toronto Theatre Review: Icarus Theatre’s Lobby Hero

By Ross

A rumpled suit-tieing man sits behind the security desk killing time as we file into the Alumnae Theatre in downtown Toronto. He can’t seem to settle himself down, pacing around waiting for the midnight shift to end, and for the rest of his life to finally get back on track. He’s uncomfortable in his skin, this is clear. Still, it’s his inability to understand his place in his own world and how to move forward which hangs the heaviest, as this dynamic production of Kenneth Lonergan’s  Lobby Hero, ushers Toronto’s newest professional theatre company, Icarus Theater onto the Alumnae Theatre stage. The production dutifully unpacks the compelling action and inaction of the four intriguing characters that find themselves caught centerstage in a quagmire of complications. We watch them struggle and get tied up into ever-tightening knots of loyalty and emotions during the midnight shift at an upscale Manhattan apartment complex lobby, and we can’t seem to look away.

We know these kinds of simple but complex souls, where heroic moments are not so clearly defined, but are layered with regrets and bad choices that literally make you groan when made. These knots are the very fabric of a Lonergan drama, much like his Oscar-nominated film, ‘You Can Count on Me’ (2000), and the Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay, ‘Manchester by the Sea‘ (2016), and we gladly lean into these interactions with curiosity and care. The four rotate around one another as authentically as the straightforward set allows, even when the lighting changes are somewhat heavy-handed and distracting, giving weight to the actions of this crew of working-class security guards and police officers without ever playing all the cards directly. They are all solidly present in this strongly formulated drama that first premiered Off-Broadway in 2001 at Playwrights Horizons, and was subsequently nominated for a Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Olivier Award for Best Play during its West End run, all before transferring to Broadway’s Second Stage theatre in 2018 with a starry cast that included Michael Cera and Chris Evans, and here, as carefully directed by Liam Eric Dawson (SBTSF’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre), we find ourself completely engaged and transfixed by the constant twisting of the web that is slowly weaved.

Matthew G. Brown and Anthony Goncharov in Kenneth Lonergan’s  Lobby Hero. Photo courtesy of Icarus Theatre Productions.

The two pairs, the police and the security guards, pulse forward with an ease and an urgency that keeps our focus tuned in and our blood flowing. There are pretty much no moments of boredom or lethargy that one might expect during the graveyard shift of a lobby security guard, although maybe a bit too many unnecessary actions, like smoking or typing at a computer, that seem more like busy work, rather than intentional or character driven. But overall, we are presented with well-played and orchestrated interactions that dynamically float around and through the issues of morality and ethics. Anthony Goncharov, the CEO and Artistic Director of Icarus Theatre, does his duty as the rambling and insecure doorman – wait, I’m sorry, I mean, ‘security guard’- named Jeff. He holds that title very close to his chest as tight as a child to a teddy bear, giving himself a nervous childlike energy that expertly resonates. Sitting at the center of this spin, he is trying ‘sorta’ hard to pull his life together after, what he calls, some ‘bad luck’ in the navy. His body language screams of a lost soul who wants to believe in salvation but is far too impulsive, sarcastic, and lazy, all at the same time, to really do the work to make solid gains in his life. He’s like a smart stoner without the stone, languishing behind a desk finding ways to sleep through his shift without ever appearing to be the loser manchild his hero father thinks he is.

With strong inspirational, yet somehow confrontational support from his boss, the solidly upright Captain William, played solidly but not so upright by Matthew G Brown (Stratford’s To Kill A Mockingbird), Jeff states he is being lifted, that is when he’s not being torn down by his own inaction, as well as by all the motivational encouragement coming at him from his boss. It’s a complicated mess to watch, as William is a good man, but doesn’t seem aware of the put-downs and hardness thrown at regular intervals at his subordinate.  But the twist of Lobby Hero and the conundrum of the play enters casually into that lobby. It is the problematic quagmire that hangs heavy on the back of Captain William. He is the first to broach the subject of “what would you do if…hypothetically speaking?” And that formulaic question sets everything in motion, trotting itself out repeatedly, and putting forth a fascinatingly moralistic idea that resonates. Who will be the man who stands on the higher ground at the end of the midnight shift? Who will be the hero of the moment who finally does the right thing for the right reason? Or will there, in the end, be any one character who can securely claim that title?

Anthony Goncharov and Emily Anne Corcoran in Kenneth Lonergan’s  Lobby Hero. Photo courtesy of Icarus Theatre Productions.

Balancing out the dynamics of these two security guards is a pair of cops that routinely show up in that same lobby each night for a variety of morally complex reasons. Connor Briggs (Sheridan College’s Nine; Netflix’s “The Killing“), finds an impressive weight within playing the overly confident policeman-narcissist, Bill, who likes to swing by every night for an on-duty personal visit to a pretty and obliging ‘friend’ up on the 22nd floor. Briggs wondrously inhabits that beautifully arrogant and cocky persona of a super-cop basking in his powerful magnetism and manliness. He won’t sign in, naturally, ignoring the request from the lowly security guard as Bill is far too aware of the belittling nervousness he can elicit from Jeff just by standing too close to him. He exudes from his very core the feeling that he has every right and privilege to do so, and rarely finds the reason to step back or down. He’s also fully aware of the hold he has over his police partner, Dawn. The #MeToo movement has yet to creep its way up on him, but it’s only a matter of time, as the way he engages with all, especially with his buddy William, is both uncomfortably icky yet somehow charming, pulling us in seductively while at the same time, making us what to stay clear of his masculine toxicity.

Waiting patiently down in the lobby with Bill upstairs doing his thing, is the rookie police officer and far too green partner, Dawn, played marvelously in an oversized jacket by Emily Anne Corcoran (Studio Theatre’s Richard III). She is totally smitten by her partner, believing in his boastful platitudes until the obvious dirt is pointed out to her by the overzealous Jeff. Jeff, you see, is awkwardly smitten by Dawn and the whole female cop thing, and doesn’t seem able to stop the floodgates of words that constantly come rattling out from his nervous mouth. Their growing chemistry and dynamic are brilliantly caustic, cute, and electric, although the shifting isn’t always on track and naturally forecasted. She constantly engages in battles with herself and others for what is right and wrong in any and all situations, trying so hard to become the hero cop she wants to be and the person that does the right thing in the end, even if it means throwing someone under the bus. Including herself.

Lust, power, and attraction are played out impulsively and organically within the smartly constructed dialogue of Lonergan, as all four bounce off each other in ways that are both surprising and thrilling. Lobby Hero is strangely dynamic, hilarious, and crisp with a fascinatingly strong moral conflict at its center, spinning everyone around without throwing anyone down with too much force. I’m not sure what the overall scheme is in Lonergan’s heart regarding these four, but it’s obvious he cares about them, hoping they find solutions in what lies ahead. One thing is clear though. What lies ahead for these four actors, and for the theatre company as a whole, is all thumbs up and applause, as we never get sick of watching them fight to stay upright, and hopefully become the hero of their story. I’m curious about what is next for Icarus as the midnight shift ends, and the next day’s production rises up like the sun.

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