„Lobby Hero“ by Kenneth Lonergan, the new Premiere at the English Theatre of Hamburg

„Listen to me, Jeff. You can do it if you really want it.“

Prologue: After a good many thrilling moments before Christmas with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, the ETH now offers its aficionados a new great play. Most remarkable is Longergan’s fine study of character.

Jeff is a lonely boy, lonely and blue…

Having just left an old castle in Victorian England, we are now walking into the lobby of a New York high-rise apartment building in the heart of Manhattan. Lobby hero Jeff (Ned Rudkins-Stow) , better described as anti-hero, is sitting behind his big desk of fake marble trying to solve a crossword puzzle. He seems utterly bored with his job as a watchman on shift during night-time. Just look at his desolate work-place and you will easily understand his state of mind: Walls painted in dirty grey, horrible posters all over the place and a couple of plastic chairs scattered around. Distraction comes along with some rare visitor who talks to the lonely young man. To-night it is Wiliam (Daniel Gregory), his boss, a smart black man in his thirties, who enjoys a chat with Jeff before doing his nightly rounds. William is the sheer contrast to Jeff, the dreamy unambitious loner. As a family man he is trying to climb up the social ladder to secure his folks a better future. You can call William a model of seriousness, a man totally loyal to the laws.

A question of loyalty and abuse

William has a big problem. He tells Jeff that his younger brother has just been arrested by the police for a horrible crime committed in a hospital where a nurse, the mother of three little kids, was killed. What’s more, his brother wants William to give him an alibi for the time when the crime took place. All of a sudden Jeff is involved in the case. When two police men enter the lobby, it is on him to decide either to tell the truth or to lie for his boss. Jeff is in a dilemma.
Two new characters step in and complete the quartet: Bill ((Peter Dewhurst) an arrogant, corrupt and cynic cop who thinks that he is above the law, and Dawn (Chloe Ballantine) , his young naive female partner. Although Bill sleeps with Dawn, he regularly “contacts” Mrs. Heinwald when on duty. She is an attractive prostitute who lives and works in apartment 22-J on the second floor of the building. Bill lies to Dawn that he has a friend named Jim whom he sees from time to time for a chat.

A false alibi

Can I be sure about Bill?

Bill has heard of William’s trouble and offers help to get his brother out of jail. He knows someone at the District Attorney`s Office who could do something for him – of course strictly within the law “ and maybe a little bit around the edges.” William accepts nolens volens. What else could he do to help his brother. William knows that he has something “to do” for Bill in exchange when the cop should be in trouble, according to the famous Latin dictum: “Manus manum lavat” which means “I do you a favour and in return you do me a favour when I am in trouble.” During all his life William has always followed a strict moral code that saved him from a fate similar to his brother’s – a life on the streets with criminal buddies. William is proud of his impeccable career as a security man. It causes him great pain to break the law.

Crime does not pay and lies are short-lived

Thanks to Bill’s intervention William’s brother has been released from jail. But this is not the end of the story and by no means a happy end. Since when Dawn finds out that Bill has been lying to her all the time, she gets furious. Did he not tell her that he loved her and even thought of leaving his wife for her. She decides to contact the District Attorney’s Office and disclose the deal between Bill and William. She urges Jeff to do the same and tell the whole truth. However, he does not agree with her and thinks that she is nothing but trouble and wrecking her own chances. But after thinking twice, he admits that she is courageous and a moral example. He will do his best to come up to her. Jeff squeezes Dawn’s shoulder. Isn’t this the beginning of a wonderful friendship? Curton.

Conclusion: Bill is frustrated since he will not be awarded the gold plaque he so desperately desired. How could he act the way he did. What a fucking fool he was. Bingo. Insight is the first step to improvement! Sorry for this most unladylike word. But fecal language is used throughout the play. It neither does harm to the play nor to the actors. Dear spectator, enjoy this outstanding performance with four outstanding tespians.

Let’s stick together, Dawn.

“Lobby Hero” premiered Off-Broadway in 2001. It fell asleep like the Brother Grimm’s Dornröschen (sleeping beauty), although not exactly for a span of a hundred years. It was only awakened in 2018. This time the play dealing with corruption, racism, sexism and a good many other isms was produced on Broadway. And the critics were full of praise for Kenneth Lonergan, the well-known author of “This is our Youth” and “You can count on Me.” Lonergan also co-wrote the film “Gangs of New York.”
While the Evening Standard wrote: “Lobby Hero is a fascinating comedy”, the Daily Mail found the play “superb, brilliant, blissful comic writing.” Last but not least The New York Times praised Mr. Lonergan’s “most ambitious study to date in the damage caused by impure motives.”

Last performance of “Lobby Hero” on April 6, 2024.
Tickets under phone number: 040- 227 70 89 or online under: www.englishtheatre.de
Next premiere: “Lizard Boy”- a new musical by Justin Huertas – on April 22, 1024

Photos: Stefan Kock/ETH

Author: Uta Buhr

Ehrenpräsidentin Die Auswärtige Presse e.V., freie Journalistin, Reise, Wellness, Kultur (Theater, Ausstellungen)