In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Di'Monte Henning and Andrew Edwin Voss star in "Lobby Hero" at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. (PHOTO: Paul Ruffalo)

Honor and dishonor sneak into the picture in Chamber's "Lobby Hero"

One of the most interesting things about each of our lives is how we grow, shrink and change from one thing to another to another and another.

It is one of the mysteries of life, and it is on full display at a deep and moving production of "Lobby Hero" by Kenneth Lonergan that opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre over the weekend.

It is a rare play that has four characters and where our opinion of each changes several times from beginning to end. But it is a mark of the excellence of this play that Lonergan has crafted that, much like life, there are no certainties.

The story centers on Jeff (Chris Klopatek), a worn-out at 27 slacker who works as a lobby guard in a New York apartment building. He has been kicked out of the Navy for smoking weed while on duty, is living with his brother, and is pondering and dreaming about his next move in a life cluttered with the detritus of a woeful existence.

His supervisor, William (DiMonte Henning), is a by-the-book boss who finds, in Jeff, someone with potential but also someone who bothers him with his incessant joking and only moderate attention to his duties. In a rare moment of candor, William reveals to Jeff that his brother has been arrested for murder, the culmination of a life misspent in the cracks of the city.

Enter two beat cops, Bill (Andrew Edwin Voss) and his youthful partner Dawn (Sara Zientek). Bill is a veteran cop, poised to move off the beat and into the gold shield of a detective. He's got his own way of doing things and isn't afraid to bend a rule here or there. His most valued commodity is a partner who has his back, no matter the moment.

Dawn idolizes Bill, and perhaps even more as they make their way into the play. It could easily be love, and there are hints that even now, in her three months on the job, they have dillied and dallied together.

Jeff is taken with Dawn, who has to wait in the lobby while Bill visits the woman in 22J, a woman who Jeff says "has lots of boyfriends." It's clear that Bill is getting his ashes hauled with some regularity.

Dawn, of course, is crushed with the knowledge that her partner, both on the job and hopefully off, would engage in such spurious behavior, either while on duty or off.

The dilemma that all great works should have arises when William confides to Jeff that his brother has created an alibi that has him joining William at a movie at the exact moment the murder has occurred. Despite his profound allegiance to the truth, he confesses that he is considering the idea of confirming his brother's alibi.

Bill, ever the big man on the beat, assures William that he will vouch for his honesty and help the security chief establish the alibi that will free his brother.

Under the careful and comprehensive direction of C. Michael Wright, we then see the evolution of each character, moving well clear of who we thought they were when we first met them.

I won't give away any of the surprising twists and turns that carry an audience to the final moments of honor, but each character in this play becomes so fully developed that there is no mistaking who they are.

Jeff turns from the spineless laggard to a man for whom honor, first shown him by his father, becomes something more than just a word. Dawn turns from the ingenue cop into a fierce protector of both her honor and the honor of the uniform.

William becomes a man who is living with a lie and who finds that there is satisfaction in dishonor. And Bill, who parades like an honorable cock of the walk, proves that his sense of honor is only a mirage and as flimsy as a leaf in a storm.

Helping this play come life is a quartet young actors who have in the past, continue now, and will in the future leave serious marks on the theater world in Milwaukee.

As Jeff, Klopatek is a marvel of both language and physical movement. His posture, gesture and glance all serve to both support and lead his dialogue, and he suffers agitation much as he enjoys poking fun at the world.

Zientek continues to amaze me every time I see her. She finds in her character depths of personal development that only an actor in touch with life could do.

Henning is an actor who is proving to be as versatile as any young actor in the city. He has played characters like James in the brilliant In Tandem production of "Burying the Bones" to this buttoned up example of a man who thinks he has a corner on what it takes to be a leader.

Voss, a former fixture in Milwaukee, has returned to this city for this appearance, and it only serves to affirm how much I miss his acting. He is a bit of a gypsy actor, ranging far and wide for work, but his power and skills are something I wish were a regular feature on stages. This is a man with all the chops, and it's no wonder he's in demand around the country.

Chamber has mounted a play about heroism, what it is, but also, and perhaps most importantly, what it isn't.

"Lobby Hero" runs through Dec. 18 and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.

Production credits: Director, C. Michael Wright; Stage Manager, Judy Martel; Scenic Designer, Stephen Hudson-Mairet; Costume Designer, Kristina Sneshkoff; Lighting Designer, Stephen Roy White; Sound Designer, Terrance Barrett; Properties Master, Madelyn Yee; Dialect Coach, MIchelle Lopez-rios; Production Manager, Brandy Kline.

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