Intermission Talk

“Lobby Hero” makes

“Admissions” to

“A Walk in the Woods”




It’s no coincidence that Jeff [Michael Cera, who possesses the seemingly effortless ability to deliver his thoughts as though they have not been rehearsed] insists on being called a security guard, not a doorman.  He passes the graveyard shift at his achingly lonely desk overseeing almost nothing in the lobby of a featureless high-rise apartment building.  Except for bites from a left-over sandwich from the previous guard, his only solace is a left-over, sleaze magazine, the only prop needed to act out his practiced routine at being able to slouch down behind its open pages, approximating an interest in its content.

His boss William, jokingly referred to as Super Cop among his underlings, provides some mindless chatter peppered with unrequested advice during his regular nightly rounds.   Their regular exchanges in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” are broken up by William’s distress on learning that his brother was caught at the scene of the rape and murder of a young nurse.  On this night, William’s drop-in coincides with the drop-in of the pair of beat cops [veteran Bill and newbie Dawn], who make Jeff’s building a regular stop most nights.  The reason for their choice of this particular apartment building resides on the 22nd floor, where a welcoming widow always welcomes Bill for a refueling visit.  Still fresh out of the police academy, Dawn finds this routine a serious breach of a policeman’s duties, and when she learns of it, makes her displeasure known to Jeff.   Since each of them is newly-recruited for their posts, the question of integrity [to tell or not to tell] plays heavily on their consciences.  And because Jeff is nearing a regular paycheck position, which would give him the means to get his own apartment, letting the info about William’s regular rendezvous slip so Dawn learns of it means he could lose this job, and the chance to strike out on his own.  Dawn’s new appointment creates a conundrum for the young woman – tell [be ostracized by all of her colleagues] or don’t tell [being a party to knowing about William’s lie that his brother was with him at the movies, and not at the scene of the crime].

If you happen to be walking by the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that frame the lobby, you might see four people, each one ‘identified’ by their uniforms.  What you don’t see is the interrelated conflicts they are all embroiled in.  Playwright Kenny Lonergan [whose credits include the powerhouse stage work “This is Our Youth” and the highly-acclaimed film “Manchester by the Sea”] again exhibits a keen ability to extract highly-charged secret conflicts from the lives of apparently regular people, people you might observe every day or night.

Each of these four holds a secret that could change another’s life.  Trip Cullman’s unfussy direction is greatly enhanced by the slowly-revolving set, designed by David Rockwell.  That the proceedings only yield one physical confrontation may have something to do with the setting [“people in glass houses”] and something to do with the excellent restraint Lonergan demonstrates in crafting his play.  All four possess knowledge that could turn them into a hero to some, and a bastard to others.  Lonergan punctuates his dialogues with credible enough pauses, permitting these four those extra moments to decide what they will say and do, whether or not they wish to emerge from this ordinary night a hero, or not.

No such simple, clear-cut choices are readily available to Sherri Rosen-Mason [a masterfully played Jessica Hecht] and her husband Bill [Andrew Garman], both of whom deliberately selected a well-regarded  high school to work at for the past fifteen years..  She is the admissions director, he is the dean, devoted to their only son Charlie Luther Mason , who seems to have been middle-named as a likely tribute to MLK.  Charlie is portrayed by young Ben Edelman, who has the same sharp attention to detail that could make him a likely choice to be the next Evan Hansen.  They believe it will boost Charlie’s chances  to provide him with a head-start on being accepted to one of the very best universities [Yale or Harvard, where every existing Supreme Court justice attended].  The Masons claim a dedication to the objective of helping to create a level playing field for everyone, regardless of race, or any other personal characteristic.   So imagine their dismay [particularly hers] when they learn that their Charlie does not wish to accept any offer from either Ivy League institution, in keeping, he believes, with his parents’ devotion to wiping out discrimination.  His choice – a community college.  His parents, however, do not go along with this life choice in Joshua Harmon’s new play at Lincoln Center, directed with a sure hand by Daniel Aukin.

The fact that Jess and Bill’s closest friends are a mixed-race couple whose dark-skinned son is obviously not the product of a white-couple pairing provides Harmon’s playscript with a convenient, rather schematic source of conflict when their son is accepted into Yale, while Charlie, with equally superior grades, is not.  So Charlie’s decision to have his college fund bankroll devoted instead to providing money for a scholarship  for a deserving student of color forces the couple to confront their own personal prejudices when this challenge to them hits so close to home.

This set of circumstances presents a compelling mix of what-to-do’s, one that could provide plenty of juice for its central adult couple to wallow in, it is Sherri’s  duty as overseer of the school’s recruitment catalog that tips the balance, the story managing to teeter off the balance line between drama and melodrama.  When her staff person keeps failing to provide Sherri with an acceptable set of photos for next year’s catalogue, one that makes it clear that the school is not a bastion of nearly all-white privilege, Sherri’s obsession with telegraphing her school’s lack of prejudice in making its freshman class selections look ‘balanced’ makes clear what the family’s dilemma is.  It is Charlie’s insistence, handily revealed in tomorrow’s school paper editorial, that he will give up his college money to provide for a scholarship for a deserving student of color, that cracks wide open the fissures in the family Mason’s depth of dedication to this cause.

“Admissions” is without doubt an actor’s showcase play, providing the actors especially portraying Jess and Charlie with thoughtful, well-articulated speeches that reveal their characters’ poisoned positions.   Because this dilemma has been located within one family’s situation, it weakens the play’s force, instead playing out like the first half of a well-intentioned premise, robbing an audience with the chance to hear what their final decision is – Yale or community college – and thus providing fodder for an audience member to agree with, or defend, or to challenge a final outcome.   The serious points being made have been weakened by the gloating appearances of the mother of Charlie’s best friend [with a cake, to celebrate her son’s acceptance!], as well as the continuing tedious discussion of how many black faces the school’s next catalog should have, a deficiency partly remedied if Charlie’s offer to provide financial aid to a worthy student of color is accepted.  One is reminded of the NIMBY elements that get tossed around in the aftermath of “Six Degrees of Separation.”   What you believe when you take your seat before Act One begins is most likely what you will believe when Act Two ends.

“A Walk in the Woods,” Lee Blessing’s politically-charged two hander first seen in 1988, has lost nearly none of its power, partly because it embodies each character’s core beliefs so neatly in the minds and dialogue of its negotiators.  Martin Van Treuren’s Andrey Botvinnik, the talk-weary Russian, and John Honeyman, his American counterpart  K. Lorrel Manning, come alive under the able guidance of director Donna Jean Fogel, at the Barrow Group’s current revival.  Blessing kept the ideas and counterpunches rolling out of each character’s mouth as engrossing as the carefully-calibrated positions they each maintain.

Set in Switzerland in 1988, the two men recognize how tendentious their positions are, and despite the passing of thirty years, they can see how each side must reflect their country’s current leadership.  That awareness comes with the territory.  Becoming a negotiator assumes that the man choosing to pursue that position must either be totally devoted to the country’s ideology, or totally devoted to the idea that peace can be attained between their two countries.  [This is 1988.]

Both men manage to keep the dialogue going, especially when his partner has successfully steered the topic away from international relations to “Where did you get those shoes?”  A certain patience is required to remain there and re-direct the conversation.

Even if the notion of a politic-based story line is not something you ordinarily gravitate toward, “A Walk in the Woods” does provide real-world talking points, and it also shows how two skillful actors and one resourceful director can create a theatrical experience that grabs and keeps your attention.


It’s not too late for you or someone you know to take advantage of the special program for theatregoing audiences for New York City’s former servicemen and women, set up by the TDF Veterans Program, in conjunction with the New York City Council.  It provides admission at no cost to anyone who qualifies.  Still remaining to be seen are “A Bronx Tale” on May 16 at 7 PM, and “Kinky Boots” on May 19 at 2 PM.  For more information about this and similar TDF programs, consult  . . . the real-life story of Ruth Coker Burks, whose decision to abandon her career in finance in the 1980s in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where no AIDS support organization existed.  In this new play by Gina Femia, “We Are a Masterpiece,”  directed by Retro Productions company member DeLisa M. White, the struggles endured by Burks are portrayed by Heather Cunningham, during its run from April 7 – 21 at the 14th Street Y, with details available at  . . . following performances at correctional facilities, homeless shelters, social service organizations and community center from March 29 to April 21, the Public’s production’s mobile unit of “Henry V” will tour this spring from April 23 to May 13 in all five boroughs and in Westchester, all under Mobile Unit director Robert O’Hara.  Details are available at  Admission is free to all performances.

On Book

Along with “Lobby Hero,” other Kenneth Lonergan works for stage and screen include “You Can Count on Me,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “This is Our Youth” and “The Waverly Gallery,” each one a lesson is sharp, careful writing . . .  “Six Degrees of Separation” was written by John Guare, and was later adapted for the screen . . . to discover the growth of Shakespeare’s reputation after his death and the wide range of historical and unsubstantiated tales about his life, “That Man Shakespeare,” by David Ellis offers a matchless collection of stories and references.  It’s part of the Icons of Modern Culture Series from Helm Information LTD . . . and to learn something about the role of critics, the people who play a large part in generating positive and negative associations with any playwright’s name, pick up Frank Rich’s “Ghost Light.”  Rich served as chief theatre critic for The New York Times from 1980 to 1993.  It’s a Random House publication.


TONY VELLELA wrote and produced the PBS series about theatre “Character Studies.”  His play “Admissions” was given three separate performances, all directed by Austin Pendleton, and named Best Play at the New York International Fringe Festival.  Playscripts published the play.  ArtAge published his play “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre.”  He has written nine other plays and musicals, including the musical “Mister,” with composer Misha Piatigorsky, for Anthony Rapp.  He has written performing arts feature articles for Parade, Dramatics, Rolling Stone, The Christian Science Monitor and several other publications.  He has taught theatre courses at HB Studio, Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, the 92nd St. Y and several other institutions.  His documentary “The Test of Time” was a CableACE Award winner for Lifetime Television.


CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations., are available at Carmel App, at and at 212 – 666 – 6666.


Books recommended or referenced in Intermission Talk are available at, or through Manhattan’s Tony Award-winning Drama Bookshop, 250 West 40th Street, NYC 10018. at 212 – 944 – 0595, or at













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