The latest offering from the Donmar Warehouse's American Imports season is a piece of pure pleasure from Kenneth Lonergan, the playwright whose current West End hit This is Our Youth is prompting comparisons with David Mamet. Like Mamet, Lonergan's Americans are fast-talking, and wisecracking. On the basis of Lobby Hero, however, he seems to have more heart than the Chicago based writer, viewing his characters less as freaks of capitalism, and more as its victims.
The Lobby in question belongs to a middle-income high-rise apartment block in Manhattan. Who the hero is is less certain. It could be Jeff, an underachieving twentysomething, thrown out of the navy for smoking a joint, and now working as a night-time security guard; or William, his boss, the Captain, who takes Jeff to task for his lack of ambition; or Dawn, the rookie cop, forced to cool her heels in the lobby while her partner services the high-class hooker upstairs. In the end, it's not quiet a Mametian vision of the world where everyone is out to get everyone else, but one where, human nature being what it is, no one is quite trustworthy, and no single moral principle is quite big enough to serve all occasions.
Chief among the evening's delights is Jeff, quite brilliantly played by David Tennant, whose American accent, unlike some of the others in this all-British cast, is flawless. He exudes a kind of well-meaning hopelessness, talkative, yet, as he says, sometimes he feels he was 'born worn-out': the classic slacker. His complacency is ruffled, however, when, in an attempt to impress Charlotte Randle's sexy cop, he lets slip some confidential information about his boss William's brother, currently awaiting trial for murder. The information given, concerning the brother's false-alibi for the evening of the murder, makes Jeff a traitor to his boss, but a friend to the murdered woman's family. Is Jeff then a hero or a sneak? In these times what makes a hero? These questions are teased out with real subtlety by the author, in this beautifully acted revival of the original off-Broadway production. It is hard to imagine a better new play in London at present. It is also a relief to see that a writer with a reputation for sparkling dialogue, is capable of presenting a piece of work with depth as well as surface.
What other critics said:
DAVID BENEDICT for THE OBSERVER says, "Terrific production. " CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Outstanding new play." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Mark Brokaw's beautifully judged production hits all its comic targets." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "A play to relish, a young American author to watch." KATE BASSETT for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Mature, politically engaged play, developing into a heated ethical debate." MCHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Well paced production." Peter Hepple for THE STAGE says, "Extraordinarily absorbing play."
External links to full reviews from newspapers...