July 16, 2004





Virtue is still its own reward in 'Hero'


Much like its slacker protagonist, Kenneth Lonergan's 2001 play "Lobby Hero" is much smarter and stronger than it first appears. This single-set four-hander initially seems quite content to hunker down in real time with twentysomething security guard Jeff as he aimlessly passes lonely night shifts in a seedy New York hotel, doing crosswords or shooting the breeze with anyone who drops by.


Eventually the play thickens and Jeff stirs to action. And true to its title, "Lobby Hero" emerges as a casual, unforcedly old-fashioned portrait of everyday virtue.


The Odyssey Theatre's new production nails the virtue but fumbles the casual part. A laidback late-night mood is essential to the play's seemingly formless accumulation of detail. But director Kenneth Alan Williams appears afraid we'll be bored or distracted if the show's themes aren't signposted from the top, or if his Jeff (Aaron MacPherson) doesn't work overtime to ingratiate.


Indeed, MacPherson plays Jeff with a naked neediness that ultimately proves affecting. But he can't touch the character's dry sarcasm or suggest the quasi-Zen detachment Jeff uses to transcend his job's monotony, as Kevin Corrigan did definitively in South Coast Repertory's 2002 production.


Darren Law has some authentic, bracing moments as Jeff's upstanding boss, but he overplays the character's torment and quashes some of his jokes. As a pair of bickering NYPD cops, Amy Pietz and Scott Cummins effectively walk away with the show; every moment they're onstage the play's signature mix of humor and horror locks beautifully into place. The fuzz are packing the real heat in this "Hero."

--Rob Kendt


"Lobby Hero," the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 12. $10 to $25. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.