PICTURED: Lobby Hero at The Elite. Photo by Demian-Tejada-Benitez

by Emily Dodi

While the city sleeps, or does whatever it does behind closed doors, life plays out in the lobby of a New York City high-rise apartment building. This is Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, onstage at The Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard through Aug. 7.

Gabriel Tejeda-Benitez and Herb Hall perform in Lobby Hero. Photo-by-Demian-Tejada-Benitez

Jeff the security guard, played by promising newcomer Gabriel Tejeda-Benitez, is working the graveyard shift. It is a quiet night until it isn’t, when the conflicts and contradictions that lie at the very heart of being human draw Jeff out from behind his desk and into the fray.

In Lonergan’s beautifully written play, issues of racism, sexism, policing and injustice rumble beneath the surface until they take on an urgency that shakes up the lives of its four characters. In his signature style, Lonergan deftly intertwines humor and pathos until his characters, as well as the audience, are faced with questions that must be asked yet have no clear answers. Questions about loyalty, truth, trust and a whole mess of other things because being human is messy. Watching the tension build in such a benign setting only adds to the work’s power.    

Lobby Hero playing at The Elite. Photo-by-Demian-Tejada-Benitez

It all begins when Jeff’s older and wiser supervisor William (the wonderful Herb Hall) presents a difficult problem, an impossible choice, that ultimately pulls Jeff out of his slacker stupor. Then into their night walk two police officers, the cocky veteran Bill (Bill Walthall) and the wide-eyed rookie Dawn (Rosie Gordon). Each cop carries their own secrets, shame and valor. Watching the four characters wrestle with their own individual demons and values, and then use them against one another, is a thing of beauty. 

The actors are a joy to watch. Bill Walthall, a longtime member of the Elite, is in top form. The captivating Rosie Gordon imbues Dawn with a morality that is often at odds with her ambitions. It is clear that the gifted director Cate Caplin has brought out the best in each actor.

The marvelous crew includes set designer Shen Heckel, whose lobby is utterly authentic. The delineation between lobby and street is also very nicely done. The set building team of Heckel, Angela DeCicco, Kimberly Pendergast, Pam Hogarth, Bill Walthall, Laura Comstock, Sheryl Jo Bedal and Joy Gee deserve a nod, too. As sound designer, Walthall deftly employs elevator dings, automatic door swooshes, and city noises to augment the action. (A shout-out for playing such a great song at the end.)  The light design by Marc Rosenthal, Personal Creations and Pat Lawler helps evoke the chill of the night and the warmth of the lobby. Costumer Michael Mullin deserves kudos for outfitting the actors in highly realistic uniforms.

Alone in the middle of the night, two old-timers and two newbies prove that there is more than one way to see the truth. Or is there? Jeff’s final act may be the best thing any of us can do. 

One thing everyone really should do is see Lobby Hero. Laced with humor and filled with moments that are sure to spark debate and reflection, Elite Theatre’s inspired production is not to be missed.  

Lobby Hero through Aug. 7 at The Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard. For more information call 805-483-5118, or visit www.theelite.org.