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‘Lobby Hero’ review: Questions of morality fill the room

Chris Evans, left, Bel Powley, Michael Cera and

Chris Evans, left, Bel Powley, Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry in Second Stage Theater's "Lobby Hero." Credit: Mark Seliger

WHAT “Lobby Hero”

WHERE Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St.

INFO $99-$299,, 212-239-6200.

BOTTOM LINE A provocative examination of assorted moral dilemmas.

Moral dilemmas fly so fast your head spins at “Lobby Hero,” the provocative Kenneth Lonergan drama that just opened at the beautifully restored Hayes Theater.

It’s interesting to ponder why Second Stage, a company devoted to producing the work of living American playwrights, elected to open its new Broadway home with a 17-year-old play by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Manchester by the Sea.” Nothing ever changes, is my best guess, as the play delves into issues — racial profiling, the injustices of the justice system, police brutality and the treatment of women in the workplace — that remain painfully unresolved all these years later.

Directed by Trip Cullman, it’s set in the nondescript lobby of a hardly luxurious apartment building. Security guard Jeff (Michael Cera, perfectly cast as an insecure, unambitious man seemingly incapable of acting on his dreams of going into advertising) fritters away the graveyard shift until his no-nonsense supervisor William (Brian Tyree Henry) drops by, asking about the two cops who just left. It was a “social call,” is all Jeff has to say, dismissing William’s concern that they wanted to ask William about his brother who’d just been arrested and accused of a horrendous crime.

The next night the cops are back. Bill (a fine performance from Chris Evans, challenged to go against type as a womanizing bully far from the superhero we’re so used to) is making another visit to the divorced actress in 22J. Left in the lobby, his rookie partner Dawn (Bel Powley), a young woman on the job for three months, engages in mildly flirtatious banter with Jeff, but ultimately reveals she might be in trouble for taking her nightstick to the head of a drunken bar patron and sending him to the hospital.

With David Rockwell’s appropriately utilitarian set making subtle rotations, as if to allow for varied perceptions, all those questions of morality rear their heads. Should William go against his ideals to provide his brother with an alibi? Should Jeff make it clear to Dawn just what’s going on upstairs? Does Dawn need to be “really nice” to Bill to ensure he has her back over the potential claims of unnecessary aggression?

“How are you supposed to know if you’re right and everyone else is wrong?” Dawn asks in the closing moments. The play provides no answers, of course, but when this lobby heroine finally throws it back at her domineering partner with a bold, in-your-face tirade that emphatically puts him in his place, the audience all but stands and carries her out in triumph.

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