Megan Sandberg-Zakian, who directs Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero at Capital Repertory Theatre through Oct. 20, actually saw the show a number of times when she was living in New York, at the beginning of the new century.
Lobby Hero, of course, was recently big news on Broadway, with a second look at the Helen Hayes Theater, helmed by director-of-the-moment Trip Cullman and starring Chris Evans and Michael Cera, drawing rave reviews and a Tony Award® nomination for Best Revival of a Play.
The piece, a four-hander that takes place entirely within the lobby of an upscale Manhattan apartment building, originally opened off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in March 2001, before moving to the now-defunct John Houseman Theatre, where it closed on Sept. 2, 2001, just days before the towers fell.
“It was an intense time to be in New York,” Sandberg-Zakian says.
Sandberg-Zakian directed last season’s compelling boxing drama The Royale for theREP, drawing some pretty rave reviews of her own. That production, itself a revival of sorts, streamlining an earlier staging she had done for Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass., was taut and lyrical, stinging like a proverbial bee.
Sandberg-Zakian didn’t shy away from the brutal racism and the difficult personalities depicted in Marco Ramirez’s script, but she did allow the audience to come to its own decision on the complexities of the tale.
She’ll do the same with Lobby Hero.
The play itself is a whirlwind, with elevators. Jeff, the ersatz title character, is a down-on-his-heels security guard with a crush on Dawn, a local rookie cop. His stern boss, William, does his best to help Jeff, even pitching him self-help books. Dawn’s supervisor, Bill, keeps a mistress in the building, and when all four come together over the investigation of a murder, their lives swirl together in even more unexpected ways—linking racism, sexism, ageism, harassment, sibling fealty, employment inequality and more in a swirling spray of smart dialogue.
Lonergan, best known as writer/director of the film Manchester By the Sea and for his co-writing work on Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, is rightly praised for his way with words. Drama fans have been aware since 1996’s caustic This is Our Youth and 2000’s The Waverly Gallery, which did win the 2018 Tony for Best Revival, and gave Elaine May a trophy for her portrayal of Gladys Green, caught in the throes of dementia.
“He writes really beautiful relationships, people that care about each other and are also real—people struggling with their own egos and baggage, but who actually do want to do right by each other. There are a lot of plays about people doing bad things, people who have gone wrong or whatever. But Lonergan writes these likable, relatable characters that have real problems and are still actually trying to do the right thing.”
Sandberg-Zakian was excited when theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill came to her with Lobby Hero. She knew she would take the challenge immediately.
Mancinelli-Cahill is a fan of works which focus on “moral compass,” and she feels Lonergan’s play, with its foreshadowing of #metoo, Black Lives Matter and the like, fits that bill.
Sandberg-Zakian, as noted, is less inclined to zero in on specific issues, even though she admits our social climate has changed in the nearly two decades since the play debuted.
“We’re certainly in a different kind of conversation than we were 18 years ago,” she says.
“I guess for me, in terms of morality, the play reminds me that we all deeply affect each other. The actions that each of us takes actually has the potential to have a huge impact on the world around us and on the lives of other people. We’re living in a time when it’s sometimes hard to feel that your life has any impact. You feel kind of helpless; you feel small or whatever. So, in that sense, I feel like it’s a very morally-grounding thing to be reminded that what you do matters. That’s what morality is to me, believing that there are consequences to your actions.”
“I am definitely not trying to have a production where it feels like the staging is telling you whether the characters are making the right or wrong choices.”
Additionally, the director is glad to be bringing back a pair of actors from theREP’s The Royale. Jonathan Louis Dent played Fish; Mark W. Soucy, Max. In Lobby Hero, the former is William, the latter Bill.
“I’ve actually directed both of them a number of times, especially Jonathan, and it’s always a huge gift to have collaborators that you get to work with again and again.
I deeply trust both and I’m quite excited to see what they’ll bring to Lobby Hero. I know they’ll surprise me, which I always like.”
By Michael Eck
The Collaborative is published by Proctors