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Mar 18, 2013
02:37 PM

Strollers Gets Personal with ‘Lobby Hero’

Strollers Gets Personal with ‘Lobby Hero’

Strollers Theatre’s newest production—Lobby Hero, opening this Friday at the Bartell—is set in the lobby of a New York City highrise. Inside this secluded space, the lives, problems and aspirations of three men and one woman spill out, overlap, twist and turn.

Director Kelly Fitzgerald was kind to answer a few questions about the play—and why she’s so excited to stage it in Madison.

Why did you want to direct this play? What is it about Lobby Hero that appealed to you?

Kenneth Lonergan is one of America’s greatest modern playwrights. His work includes The Waverly Gallery and This is Our Youth, which are two of my favorite plays. Lobby Hero, unfortunately, got its shot on Broadway in the fall of 2001, which as you know was not a good time for new plays, certainly new comedies, so it closed far too early. Many people don’t know Lobby Hero, which I think is a shame. Kenneth Lonergan is far better known for his screenplays (Gangs of New York, Analyze This, You Can Count on Me, Margaret). Much of his humor is off the beaten path … hidden inside of darker subject matter. That style deeply appeals to me and Lobby Hero has that in spades! 

Can you tell me about the plot?

Sure! Jeff is the night security officer of a middle-income New York City highrise apartment building. He is the “everyman” in Lobby Hero, as well as the “hero” himself, though anti-hero is a more accurate description. He has a crush on the new cop, Dawn, who is hooked on her more experienced partner, Bill. Bill has a way of involving himself where he has not been invited. He also has a loose definition of commitment, but you’ll have to come see the play to understand that. 

As the play opens, Jeff is in the lobby with his boss, the security company’s captain, William. Their relationship is more than just employee-boss, and that is clear from the beginning. William sees potential in Jeff that others have not yet witnessed. When William confides in Jeff about a personal, family issue, Jeff does not handle it the way William would have wanted and causes a series of events that changes the relationships of all four of the characters forever. 

The humor comes from the reactions and the tactics used by the various characters in working through the very harsh reality outside the lobby. It’s as if the lobby itself is a respite, a place where the troubles of the outside world don’t penetrate. When William brings his problem to Jeff, the dynamic of the lobby changes. When Bill and Dawn bring their personal lives into the lobby, it marks a whole new chapter in Jeff's otherwise easygoing existence.

The play is described as a “funny slice of contemporary life.” How so?

There is something for everyone in Lobby Hero. Each of these four characters represents someone we know, I promise you that! Each member of the audience is going to see him or herself in these people, and while some of the humor or the storyline is at its root disquieting, it is most definitely human. Beyond that, the daily struggles of working-class people is at the heart of Lobby Hero. Each of these characters is working toward a better life. Each is trying to raise his station—whether it be working off his debt and trying to live up to his potential, or making a better life for himself than he had in his childhood, or following a desire to do good for the community, or working every angle. People will sympathize with these characters, even when they do things that at their core are not so sympathetic. We’ve all been there. It’s an extraordinary situation, but the way it’s handled is ordinary … and humorous. Lobby Hero has its dramatic moments, as all life does, but there are some real laughs that are a reflection of ourselves.

What’s been the biggest challenge of working on this play?

It’s been much more of a pleasure than a challenge, but I will say that because Strollers Theatre doesn’t have a permanent rehearsal space (for which we are still searching), having my home as the rehearsal venue has been one of the greater challenges … if nothing else, I’ve had to keep it tidy all the time. The cast and crew have all been easygoing regarding the lack of rehearsal space and have risen to the occasion, treating my basement as simply the rehearsal space and making themselves comfortable there.  Their fantastic attitudes have made that small challenge an easy one to overcome.

Other than that very simple, mechanical issue, the challenge with the script has been to guide the actors toward the real choices. Finding their core characters and building on the subtext rather than playing the text itself. There are times when the words of one character may read on the page as soothing, when the real choice is to yell those lines … it’s like slapping someone to calm him down. That’s only one example, but examples like that are all over the text of Lobby Hero. As director, I spend a lot of time on relationships and what is underneath the lines, which feeds the performances, therefore the story and therefore the audience’s enjoyment of the play.

What are you most looking forward to in bringing this play to the stage?

Lots of things, really. 

I am looking forward to introducing new people to Kenneth Lonergan and his brilliance as a playwright. 

I’m looking forward to proving that even though this is a Strollers Theatre production, that when you bring together talents from other sources (our props master and stage manager are usually found at StageQ, this is our producer’s first time producing, our costumer is working with Strollers for the first time in her career, one of our actors is far better known for her turns at Broom Street), a fresh, new product is formed. Strollers is nothing if not inclusive, and I’m dearly looking forward to Lobby Hero being a shining example of that inclusion.

I’m looking forward to what all directors everywhere look forward to, which is seeing my vision come to life on stage. That might be my very favorite part of directing—when I have an idea, convey that to my actors or crew and we collaborate to bring that idea to life. It’s an amazing joy that can't be described.

I’m looking forward to audiences engaging in and caring about these four characters and seeing themselves in the mirror that is theatre.

What do you hope audiences get from seeing Lobby Hero?

Again, many things. 

My hope is that this play, especially this play, gets people to seek out more theatre. My hope is that Lobby Hero becomes an example of what great theater in Madison can really be. It’s a small play, four characters, yet you don’t feel as if the play is small. 

One of my greatest hopes is that audiences will seek out more from Kenneth Lonergan. My first introduction to his true style was the 2000 movie You Can Count On Me starring Laura Linney and (Wisconsin native) Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo is a staple in Lonergan’s posse for good reason. He understands and instinctively feels Lonergan’s cadence and humor. I fell in love with Lonergan’s writing after that and have sought out as much of his work as I possibly could ever since. I would love to pass that passion on to the audiences who may count this production of Lobby Hero as their introduction to one of the greatest playwrights in modern history.

I want the audiences to walk away from Lobby Hero talking about it. I want them to go out for pie after the show and discuss what they just witnessed. I want them to have a feeling of hope, or to create their own ideas of what happens to Jeff, Dawn, William and Bill after the curtain call.

I want audiences to want to come back again and see what the Bartell has to offer, because for community theatre, Strollers, MTG, Stage Q and Mercury Players put on some of the most professional plays available in Wisconsin. 

I couldn’t be more proud of Lobby Hero. My hope is that audiences come away wanting and seeking more.

Lobby Hero runs March 22 to April 13 at the Bartell Theatre. For more information, visit strollerstheatre.org.

Photo courtesy of Strollers Theatre.

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About This Blog

As managing editor at Madison Magazine, I'm also an unabashed arts enthusiast. Paintings, plays, music, movies—I'm intrigued by all forms of creative expression. I enjoy talking with artists and sharing their insights, challenges, inspirations and latest endeavors. Check in regularly for details on events, previews and reviews, artist interviews and more! 

– Katie Vaughn
Follow Katie on Twitter @katiemv

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