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Asolo Conservatory's ‘Lobby Hero’ looks past right or wrong

Kenneth Lonergan remains most famous for his unflinchingly honest, poignant and humorous 2000 movie “You Can Count on Me.”

It earned the writer/director an Oscar nomination and about a year later he premiered the four-person morality play “Lobby Hero,” which has been nearly equally lauded for expertly exploring many of the same themes.

The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training will be presenting the comedy drama beginning Tuesday. It runs through Jan. 22.

Jeff (Brendan Ragan) is a lobby guard at a high-rise who’s talkative and takes nothing too seriously. His boss William (Christopher Williams) is a security captain with stiff ethical standards.

When William breaks the rules to give his criminal brother an alibi it starts an avalanche of betrayal that also includes Dawn (Brittany Proia), a rookie police officer, and her high-ranking partner/lover, Bill (Jacob Cooper).

“It’s so economical, it’s like a great quintet,” said Brendon Fox, a guest professor at FSU/Asolo Conservatory, and director of this production. “You have four characters over a couple nights dealing with recognizable issues that ultimately amount to, how do you do good?”

Fox emphasized that the play doesn’t judge its characters. Rather, Lonergan paints realistic, at times, painful portraits. The audience is left to decide what constitutes right or wrong.

“He’s not interested in heroes in villains, he’s interested in generally good people who make mistakes,” Fox said. “There are funny lines and some humor comes out of recognizing ourselves -- we laugh in recognition.”

Proia’s Dawn probably doesn’t do a whole lot of laughing, though.

She and Bill frequently stop by the apartment building. Bill leaves Dawn in the lobby while he goes upstairs to visit an attractive single woman he calls a “friend.” Bill is married. And trying to hook up with Dawn. She must decide whether to cover up for him.

“Dawn goes through some almost operatic shifts and Brittany is doing a great job of digging into the role,” Fox said. “Dawn does a lot of heavy lifting in the play.”

Proia left Maryland after high school to attend New York University before being accepted into the Asolo Conservatory’s graduate program. Like the rest of the cast members, she’s a second-year student.

“Dawn’s a very strong woman trying to make it in a male dominated profession that’s demanding, and in that respect, I relate to her,” Proia said. “Any professional woman could completely relate to her.”

There’s a certain aspect of the character, though, the actor finds especially challenging.

“It’s her mercurial nature,” Proia said. “She can switch emotions on a dime. One minute she’s happy-go-lucky and then there’s this fiery temper.”

She added, “I’m really discovering a lot about myself in this role.”

Lonergan is also the author of the acclaimed plays “This Is Our Youth” and “The Waverly Gallery.” “Lobby Hero” was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play.

Fox considers “Lobby Hero” Lonergan’s finest stage work.

“It’s a great play to begin with and a great choice for the students to sink their teeth into something this meaty,” Fox said.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057.

IF YOU GO

What: Asolo Conservatory presents “Lobby Hero”

When: Jan. 3-22

Where: Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

Tickets: $28/$27 matinees/students receive 50 percent off with advance ticket purchase.

Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org

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