Ed Shea’s dream to create a second stage at his Warren theatre to introduce contemporary plays has become a reality. Shea chose Kenneth Lonergan’s modern morality play, “Lobby Hero,” to open his Downstage season.
He has set the bar high for what looks like a crackerjack series of new to Rhode Island plays. Of all the morality plays I have seen, I have never laughed so much while being morally and intellectually challenged. Lonergan’s language is clever, funny, at times profane, but consistently on the mark.
He has created four fascinating characters, all with their own problems, dreams, self-images and challenges. Their personalities and situations collide as they try to make decisions that will affect their future and the future of the others.
At the center of the two-hour, two-act play is Jeff (Jeff Church), a loser of an apartment building doorman (“I’m not a doorman; I’m a security guard”) who works nights and has too much time on his hands. Church, a regular at 2nd Story, gives a breakthrough performance, one of the best ever seen on a local stage. His mannerisms, body language, quick humor, subtle responses and even his staring into space encourage sustained laughter, as the play becomes very intense.
This is a play about four people who must make difficult decisions. Jeff’s supervisor (Marlo Carey) must decide whether or not to provide a false alibi to keep his brother out of jail. He confides in Jeff, putting him on the spot. Jeff, in turn, confides in Dawn, a female cop (Valerie Westgate), forcing her to make an important decision. Jeff has dreamed of “making a difference,” and he is faced with that opportunity.
And then there is Bill (Ara Boghigian), her controlling partner. He plays with everyone’s head, influencing their decisions.
The situation is eventually sorted out, but only after many issues are raised. Along the way, the audience is taken on a challenging journey where their own perception of right and wrong will be challenged.
2nd Story’s new space is perfect for this type of intimate production. The ingenious set designer Trevor Elliott has created a lobby with an elevator and door to the street that puts you right in the action.
Director Shea has a winner here, giving us a play that challenges our intellect, morality and funny bone. Don’t miss it. But act right away. There are only 70 seats in the space, and the play closes Oct. 6. Call 247-4200 for reservations.