SANTA FE, N.M. — Jeff is a hapless kind of guy, talking about wanting to make something of his life, but not taking much action in that direction.
But then life grabs hold of him as two police officers and Jeff’s supervisor, William, bring problems that range from internal police bullying to potential perjury about a murder, all swirling around his post for the night shift in a Manhattan apartment building lobby. Emotions and morals do battle, with Jeff trying to do the best he can, while often complicating matters simply by telling the truth.
“Lobby Hero,” by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 25 at the Adobe Rose Theatre.
“It’s a lot more character-driven,” said Scott Shettig, who portrays William, in the play.
And while the play presents a series of moral dilemmas and foreshadows their potential effects, it doesn’t wrap everything up with a nice bow at the end.
“It leaves the rest up to the audience’s imagination,” Shettig said.
“It’s the underlying theme of the whole thing: How do you resolve something when there’s so much gray area?” added Merritt Glover, the Albuquerque actress taking the role of Dawn, the rookie cop.
“I really like the play,” said director Staci Robbins, adding that she had directed the play before when she worked in Norfolk, Va. To her, she said, it is about class conflict. Jeff has to please his supervisor and Dawn has to please her veteran partner. Power plays in the beginning, though, get somewhat reversed in the end – but not necessarily for the better.
Although the play, which premiered in May 2001, calls for a setting in the present, Robbins said there are aspects of it that she finds outdated enough that she is setting it in the 1980s.
Questions of police brutality or sexual harassment, for example, might be harder to cover up these days with the ubiquity of lapel cams or smartphone videos of events on the street, along with procedural reviews in place to handle harassment complaints.
“There’s a little bit of innocence, I feel, about the story,” she said. It portrays a time when such problems still existed, but people were less attuned to them, she explained.
Vaughn Irving, who is artistic director at the Santa Fe Playhouse, is spending some time at the Adobe Rose to play Bill, the veteran cop whom Robbins flatly labels “a jerk.”
“He’s super-cop,” Robbins said about the character, “but then you find all these undercurrents, and black areas for him and his family, and who gets manipulated” by him.
“Bill has spent his life, in my opinion, determining his worth based on what the guys on the force think of him. He has to make sure he lives up to his legend,” Irving said. He added that, in developing the role, he is channeling a friend from years ago who admits he “spent his whole adolescence and 20s caring more about what other guys thought than of being a good person.”
Bill, Irving added, “does think of himself as a good person” and he has done many laudable acts in serving the community. At the same time, he throws his weight around to get what he wants and doesn’t treat women very well.
Glover said she has many friends in law enforcement and may draw on their expertise in developing the character. “She breaks my heart on a daily basis,” she said of Dawn. “She looks for her self-worth in all the wrong places. She has such a difficult time figuring out where her place in the world is.”
The dynamic of people working closely together on a daily basis, such as Dawn and Bill, can give rise to all sorts of sticky situations, she noted. In the case of this play, Dawn goes from admiration to disillusionment in her view of Bill.
William, Jeff’s supervisor, “is a pretty straight-up guy who tries to do right by his morals and beliefs,” said Shettig. But then he comes up against a real-life, personal situation that makes it very tough for him to practice those beliefs. “It’s a very interesting story line to watch him struggle,” Shettig said.
And Jeff – well, maybe it’s just as well that actor Dylan Thomas Marshall was busy learning his lines and didn’t have time to talk, because Jeff in a sense is the blank slate before which everyone else’s struggles play out. But he also inadvertently provides the impetus that marks a turning point in their stories.
Maureen McKenna, co-founder of the theatre, said she is a big fan of Joseph Campbell and his ideas of the hero’s journey – “the choices people make and how that defines them.”
“What is true, what is right and wrong,” she said. “These are things I wrestle with.”
Along with the characters in this play.