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Deep Dish Theater Company Review: Deep Dish's Production of Lobby Hero Is an Explosive Drama

May 16, 2003 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Editor's Note: Excited Triangle theatergoers lining up to buy tickets to Deep Dish Theater Company's explosive production of Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan will have to wait until next week, because actress Jeri Lynn Schulke was seriously injured in an automobile accident when an oncoming truck crossed the center line and hit her vehicle head on. She will be replaced, for the rest of the run, by Meredith Sause. Jeri broke both her wrists and her right ankle in this head-on collision, which left her mother, Jan, with internal injuries. Please keep them both in your thoughts and prayers. If you would like to send a note or a get-well card to Jeri, please address it to:

Jeri Lynn Schulke
105 Fidelity Street
Carrboro, NC 27510

Chapel Hill's critically acclaimed Deep Dish Theater Company usually packs its pocketsize University Mall theater (in the space behind Branching Out) for its shoe-string productions of an eclectic selection of contemporary and classic comedies and dramas. Lobby Hero by Bronx playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan (best known for the Off-Broadway hit The Waverly Gallery and the crowd-pleasing independent film You Can Count on Me) is another high-octane presentation in the Deep Dish tradition. But this time set designer Rob Hamilton has created a superbly detailed and utterly realistic version of the guard desk and lobby of a Manhattan high-rise. It looks like a million bucks!

Jeff (Kevin Poole), the title character of this offbeat drama, is a security guard (don't you dare call him a "doorman"!) for a ritzy building far more expensive than anything he will ever be able to afford. Jeff is a slacker's slacker, with no more ambition than getting his own apartment, so that he can move out of his brother's place.

Involuntarily discharged from the U.S. Navy for getting caught smoking marijuana on duty, Jeff is trying to straighten up and fly right; but the felonies of the hoodlum brother of his hyper-intense supervisor William (Torrey Lawrence) and the misdemeanors of a couple of sorry specimens of "New York's finest" — veteran (corrupt) cop Bill (John Allore) and eager-to-please recent Police Academy graduate Dawn (Jeri Lynn Schulke) — put Jeff in an ethical jackpot when he realizes a lie that the otherwise straight-arrow William told to the police will likely result in the release from jail of William's brother, who has been arrested for participating in the gang rape and brutal murder of a mother of three.

If Jeff informs the detectives that the alibi that William has reluctantly provided for his brother is bogus, he risks being fired by William and being beaten up by Bill, who has vouched for William's truthfulness. If Jeff stays silent, his reluctance to come forward may result in a rapist and murderer being set free.

Kevin Poole plays Jeff as a capital-S slacker whose moral conscience needs quite a jolt to resurface. Poole is so laid back — and so good in the role and so perfectly cast — that he makes a perfect foil for Torrey Lawrence's drill-sergeant-tough William, whose momentary deviation from the straight and narrow — by providing his low-life brother with an alibi for rape and murder — brings William's already seething emotions to a boiling point.

Lawrence, who was magnificent as the wrongly convicted death-row inmate in Deep Dish's 2002 Top 10 production of A Lesson Before Dying, comes on strong again in Lobby Hero. John Allore is great as a wily old veteran police officer on the take, who makes nightly (unauthorized) visits to Jeff's building to have coerce sexual favors from the building's resident roundheels. And Jeri Lynn Schulke was terrific as Dawn, a nervous rookie with much to be nervous about, including the probability that Bill will force his amorous attentions on her.

When Jeff immediately falls for Dawn, and she rudely rebuffs his awkward overtures, Schulke gets a chance to turn in a bravura performance. And she does.

Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick has, as usual, superbly cast this show and brilliantly staged Lonergan's script for maximum dramatic and comic effect. Already established as one of the Triangle's best directors, Frellick adds another sizable laurel to his crown with this gritty production of Lobby Hero.

Set designer Rob Hamilton also deserves kudos for his splendid recreation of the Manhattan high-rise's plush lobby and outside entranceway, where the play unfolds. Costume designer Judy Chang has done quite well by her men and woman in uniform, and lighting designer Steve Dubay and sound designer Ross White do their best to give Lobby Hero an authentic look and feel. Don't miss it.

Deep Dish Theater Company presents Lobby Hero Thursday-Saturday, May 22-24, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 25, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday, May 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, May 29, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, May 31, at 8 p.m. in the space behind Branching Out at the Dillard's end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $12 ($10 students and seniors). Note 1: Deep Dish's new storefront theater is located in the area behind Branching Out, which is located between Cameron's and The Print Shop. Enter through Branching Out. Note 2: Dr. David Carr will lead the Deep Dish Book Club discussion of The Risk Pool by Richard Russo (http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?0679753834 - inactive 8/03) at 7 p.m. before the May 23 performance. Note 3: There will be a discussion after the May 25 matinee. 919/968-1515. http://www.deepdishtheater.org/lobby/lobby.html.