ALBANY, N.Y. — Recently Jonathan Louis Dent was in the lobby of Capital Repertory Theatre after taking publicity photos for "Lobby Hero," a play that opens at the Albany theater on Tuesday, following previews that begin tonight. A staff member recognized him from his role as Fish in "The Royale," which played at Capital Rep this time last year.
The person came over to him and thanked him for his performance in the play and told him the show has remained an important memory. Dent quickly explained that "The Royale" was about boxing, but it also offered a commentary on race relations in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
Even over the phone you could sense Dent beaming. "It's statements like that which remind me why I chose theater as a profession," he said. "To inform someone's attitude on an important topic is more meaningful to me than is a standing ovation."
It is his feeling that "Lobby Hero" will have the same effect on audiences. And it's not only because the director of "The Royale," Megan Sandberg-Zakian, also is directing this production.
"Lobby Hero" takes place in the lobby of an upscale New York City apartment building. Dent plays William, the head of security. He interacts with Jeff (Kenny Toll), a new employee who tends to be a screw-up. They are joined by two police officers. Bill (Mark W. Soucy) is known in the precinct as "super cop" and Dawn (Sarah Baskin) is a rookie female cop, who already has a reputation for her abusive tactics.
"It's a play that teaches you that one's assumptions are always changing," Dent said. "We all want to do the right thing, but `Lobby Hero' shows us there is no way of being certain what is the right thing. In the play, the four characters each have to make a specific journey that is morally muddled. It gets everyone in trouble."
Dent explains that his character, William, is a stand-up guy. He's fair but extremely strict and his by-the-book approach can seem a little overbearing. However, Dent defends William's approach to the job and points out that the new guard, Jeff, greatly admires him and thinks of William as a mentor. "William has been doing security since he was 16 years old and thinks he's got it figured out. He takes great pride in his disciplined approach to the rules," said the actor.
However, William's older brother has led a different life and is always in and out of trouble. According to Dent, William has an opportunity to throw his brother "a floatation device" which will keep him from being arrested for a serious crime he didn't commit. "To help my brother, I have to break my moral code," said Dent.
"Lobby Hero," which plays Capital Rep through Oct. 20, was written by Kenneth Lonergan and produced Off-Broadway in 2001. After the writer's success in film with "Manchester by the Sea," and "You Can Count on Me," producers began to rediscover the writer's earlier work. "Lobby Hero" was produced on Broadway last year with an all-star cast led by Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry, as was his earlier play, "Waverly Gallery," which won several Tony Awards for its 2018 revival.
"To speak Lonergan's words is to die for," Dent said. "It's a gift for any actor. His dialogue is wonderfully naturalistic. He creates his characters, so each has a specific journey — but no one on the stage can be easily defined or slotted. Every character is having a crisis that stems from trying to be true to a moral code."
Dent quickly added that Lonergan is a gifted storyteller, not a writer who writes morality tales. "His work is smart, funny, truthful, and very entertaining," the actor said. However, Dent admits that on the subject of morality, Lonergan has been ahead of the curve. Though written 18 years ago, "Lobby Hero" addresses issues that have a contemporary resonance. It deals with sexual harassment and male power in the work place. William, who is African-American, is forced to understand the issue of racial profiling and the wrongs minorities suffer within our system of justice.
The actor said the most important commentary on our current social problems is the issue of truth. "We all know that all political parties no longer tell the truth. They offer their own versions of the truth," Dent said. "`Lobby Hero' shows you the danger of that attitude."