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Lobby Hero

Presented by and at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42 St., NYC, March 13-April 8.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan is fascinated with ordinary people swept up by extraordinary events, and that accurately describes his new play, "Lobby Hero," currently being given a sharp, funny, energetic production at Playwrights Horizons. Cleverly directed by Mark Brokaw—clever because the play largely resists movement, yet the staging is fluid—"Lobby Hero" is a complex morality tale involving a luckless doorman, his supervisor, and two police officers.

The "hero" is Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), a loser finding peace, pride, and stability on the graveyard shift. His boss, William (Dion Graham), lords his work ethic over those in his command.

Bill (Tate Donovan), a highly decorated police officer, is friendly with William, whose brother, we learn, may have abetted a drug theft and murder. Bill's even friendlier with a high-class call girl in the building; his late-night trysts leave his partner, Dawn (Heather Burns), a rookie with her own web of troubles, to cool her heels while Bill gets decorated once more.

There's marvelous craft to Lonergan's storytelling: neither set-ups between Jeff and William or Jeff and Dawn feel contrived. The two-act, two-scene structure allows him to compose streams of funny, rhythmic chatter without seeming long-winded. He reveals character traits that make what follows, when secrets are passed and trusts betrayed, all the more riveting.

The doorman holds the secrets, naturally, and Fitzgerald's portrayal is a cauldron of anger, sensitivity, and whimsy that is less endearing than familiar. Fitzgerald and especially Burns have slickly mastered their outer-borough accents and chip-on-the-shoulder attitude for working-class New Yorkers of grit and gumption.

As the cocky cop, Donovan portrays Bill with sex, brooding, and menace; this symbol of criminal injustice is believable because the acting is organic, honest, and true. As William, Graham must play someone morally upstanding, then morally indefensible. It's quite a trek for an ordinary man, but like Lonergan, he nails it by keeping it real.

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