Kenneth Lonergan weaves an engagingly human morality tale in 'Lobby Hero' at Capital Repertory Theatre

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Jeff, a twentysomething security guard working the night shift at a high-rise Manhattan apartment building, is a well-intentioned young man who doesn't know when to shut up.

As played by Kenny Toll in director Megan Sandberg-Zakian's swiftly paced, solidly crafted, persuasively acted production of Kenneth Lonergan's "Lobby Hero" at Capital Repertory Theatre, Jeff is an at once annoying and engaging young man who is doing the best he can to turn his life around. He is, by his own reckoning, nine months clean of the detritus — drugs, debt, bad judgment in women — that has been the hallmark of his young life.

"I don't have a broken spirit," he tells his boss, William (Jonathan Louis Dent), who, as "Lobby Hero" begins, has stopped by the lobby (exquisitely designed by Cristina Tadesco) on his usual rounds to make sure everything is on the up and up. "I just want to stick it out here for at least a year," Jeff tells William, "so I can really get that under my belt — just for my own — just psychologically."

He loves to talk. He can't help it. He is desperate for connection, acceptance, welcome. When he talks, it is too often unguarded, unfiltered. While much of the time his talk — confessions of fantasies, sharing his life, what he knows, what he thinks he knows — amounts to little more than casual embarrassment, that penchant for "sharing" will get him into deep trouble before "Lobby Hero" has run its course; trouble not only for him but also for a young rookie female cop named Dawn (Sarah Baskin); her veteran senior partner, Bill (Mark W. Soucy), who never does a favor for anyone without expectation of loyalty in return; and most of all for William, who is caught on the horns of a moral dilemma when he is asked by his ne'er-do-well brother — who may be implicated in the brutal assault and murder of a hospital nurse, a single mother, who wound up being in the wrong place at the wrong time — to provide a false alibi for the hour or so during which the crime was committed. William's mistake is confiding in Jeff, not only the situation but also the decision he finally makes.

With the exception of the consciously manipulative Bill (brilliantly rendered by Soucy), Dawn, William and Jeff are, in a sense, naifs, trying to do the best they can, acting in all sincerity and muddled conviction; in the end, coming to terms with the consequences of their behavior.

While William and Jeff wrestle with their respective demons, the sullen, confused, angry, Dawn (for the most part effectively played by Baskin) is pushed hard by the rapids-force currents of Bill's insinuating sexual coercion and the glass ceiling in the all-male precinct to which she has been assigned with Bill as her mentor. For her would-be suitor, Jeff— as played by Toll, by turns, funny, goofy, sloppy, careless, engaging — it's a matter of not being able to keep confidences. His betrayals might well be small and well-intentioned but they are betrayals nonetheless. They wind up causing more pain than comfort; more wariness than trust.

As William, Dent often offers a slow-starting minimalist performance that gathers modest strength and conviction as the evening progresses. As Jeff, Toll also takes some time before he begins connecting dots. Once he does connect, he offers an intriguing counterpart to powermonger Bill. Baskin's sullen, pouting Dawn masks a painfully confused young woman whose belief systems and principles are under constant assault until she is pushed into a place from which she can have only one response.

In richly entertaining, deeply human fashion, Lonergan raises roiling questions about the strength and direction of our respective moral compasses; about the below-the-radar ways in which moral principles are gradually chipped away and eroded. Lonergan leaves us to contemplate, in the end, the consequences of moral compromise played out against a much broader, far reaching perspective.

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