Security!

The Jungle Theater probes the ordinary craziness of rent-a-cop life

Amy Danielson

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan was born in the Bronx to a couple of psychoanalysts. This might seem like a dismal plight to some. Yet there is some indication it was the catalyst that imbued Lonergan’s writing with a compassionate view of humanity and the ability to examine his most harrowing experiences.

Since his writing career took off, Lonergan has worked with Martin Scorsese on “You Can Count on Me,” which features a family crisis as the film’s primary obstacle. Scorsese had a great deal of confidence in Lonergan as a writer, director and actor. He praised Lonergan’s “understanding of the human being and his ability to convey that in writing. What I admire about Kenny is the irony and humor and ultimately the truth of what he expresses.” He made such an impression on Scorsese that Lonergan was also asked to co-write the screenplay for “Gangs of New York.”

Lonergan continues to produce consistently perceptive, true-to-life work. Take “Lobby Hero,” now under Bryan Bevell’s direction at the Jungle Theater. It’s about a lazy security guard, his serious boss and their confrontations with a rookie cop and her corrupt partner. In an interview with BOMB Magazine during the fall of 2000, Lonergan commented, “I was interested in somebody who’s just trying to do their job and be a human being at the same time in an environment that makes it very difficult to be both. Also, it’s about the difficulty and complexity of dealing with serious real-life issues, which police have to do all the time while the rest of us sit back and either think ill or highly of them and wonder what we would do if we were in their situation.”

Lonergan could be described as a realist, but he’s not a moralist. His characters are filled with ambiguity, and his perceptions of right and wrong never obviously project through them. The dilemmas that face his characters range from ridiculous to grave. Jeff, the lazy security guard of a Manhattan high-rise apartment, played by an expressive Nathan Christopher, makes the most of his job by learning how to sleep with his back to the door. His boss, William, played poignantly by James Young II, deals with more troublesome problems. William’s brother has been arrested for murder and uses William for an alibi. He ponders over what to tell the police with Jeff. He wasn’t with his brother, so what can he do? The police, Dawn and Bill (Angie Haigh and Gus Lynch), come in to badger the two guards. And there’s also a bizarre love triangle between Gus, Angie and Jeff – or maybe it’s more of a square if you count the woman Gus has sex with on his shift.

Getting a scenario such as this to feel more like reality than a bad FOX television drama takes flair. Lonergan makes the audience believe he has been there. Maybe he has worked as a security guard. If not, he sure knows what motivates people. Perhaps he should pursue psychoanalysis as a hobby.

“Lobby Hero” plays through March 29 at The Jungle Theater, (612) 822-7063.

Amy Danielson welcomes comments at [email protected]