Kenneth Lonergan is a sharp, sympathetic chronicler of lost, drifting twentysomethings. His most vivid characters are post-adolescence but pre-adulthood, with a vague idea of what they want but no clue how to achieve it. Jeff, the central figure in Lonergan's 2001 Off-Broadway hit, Lobby Hero, falls into this category; kicked out of the Navy for smoking pot, he is working as a nightshift security guard in a Manhattan high-rise while he tries to get his life together. But to a greater extent than the equally confused characters in This Is Our Youth or the film You Can Count On Me, Jeff is forced to grapple with complex ethical dilemmas. This makes Lobby Hero arguably Lonergan's richest piece of writing to date.
Three of the four characters must make difficult moral choices, as following their consciences means betraying someone close to them. William, Jeff's supervisor, is tormented to learn his brother has been arrested for murder. After much anguish, he decides to provide a false alibi. Once William confides in him, Jeff in effect becomes an accomplice, leaving him to wonder whether he should tell what he knows to the pair of cops who regularly visit the building. Complicating matters further, the elder, male cop is well-known for cutting corners, while the younger, female cop is quite attractive. Is Jeff's urge to confess based on a noble impulse, or a desire to get into her pants, or both? As Lonergan deftly demonstrates, from a certain perspective selfless devotion to principle can look an awful lot like self-interest.
The Ensemble Theatre Company production, directed by Eric Mills, is marred by static blocking; the actors spend way too much time with their feet planted on the floor. But all four fully inhabit their characters. Jeff could easily come across as irritating due to his passivity and indecisiveness, but Jeffrey Landman makes him quite endearing. Shaun Patrick Tubbs brings a motivational-speaker intensity to William, which makes his emotional pain that much more intense. Mindy Stover and Paul Canter are perfect as the police officers; he embodies a don't-mess-with-me aura of authority, while she puts on a show of toughness that is easy to see through. Douglas Tal Sanders created the sleek, unobtrusive set.
"Lobby Hero," presented by Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara at the Alhecama Theatre, 914 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara. Tue.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Apr. 16-May 16. $24.50-34.50. (805) 962-8606.