Feels Like I’m At Work: Security in LOBBY HERO
The police drama genre springs from the LA police motto. “To Protect and to Serve.” Protecting and serving the public can make for interesting drama.
The duty of a security guard is considerably less romantic but no less capable of drama. I was a security guard in another life. Our job wasn’t to protect and serve. It was to observe and report. You look after a building. If there are any problems, you report it to the right people: fire fighters or police officers or EMTs or whoever it was who could provide the help. It’s seen as an ancillary job, so it’s not easy to focus the drama of a movie or a stage play on it. The narrative of any drama tends to want to focus more centrally on the people involved more directly in the action. With Lobby Hero, playwright Kenneth Lonergan actually frames a really clever drama around the duty of a guard to observe and report. The center of the drama IS the job of a security guard. There’s no exaggeration here. There’s no snickering or laughing either...security guards tend to be comic relief in movies and plays. Here it’s different. Here Lonergan has fused an interesting drama that is being staged locally for the next few weeks in a compelling Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production.
Chris Klopatek plays a guard named Jeff. In casual conversation, he’s observed something about a murder that’s being investigated. As his observations are likely to impact people in his life, the moral complexities of reporting it become the central conflict of the drama. This is a drama about observing and reporting. Lonergan takes security seriously in a serious drama with some clever little bits of humor thrown in around the edges.
Milwaukee Chamber does a good job with the show. It’s set in New York. The ambient human compression of Manhattan isn’t present, but as the play takes place in a lobby of an apartment complex on third shift, it’s going to be kind of a lonely vacant feeling even in the restlessness of one of the largest cities on the planet. Third shift, though...it’s interesting: the play is set in security for a building on third shift in 2002. I used to work security for a building in 2002...granted it was an office industrial complex just south of downtown Milwaukee, but it was essentially the same type of work.
So I’m at a show as a critic and so I’m at work. And I’m in the same general neighborhood as the place where I used to work building security. And it’s set in third shift in 2002 and I’m watching Chris Klopatek in a security officer’s uniform lounge around and there’s a kind of transformation. The apartment building in the play is nowhere near as big as the place I was working back in 2002, but there’s a strange feeling about the idle conversation while working security in that neighborhood at night. I remember all those strange bits of small talk on security. We were desperately trying to keep awake between patrols of the complex, but there was SO MUCH to have to do...so many rounds to go on. Engage in small talk for too long and you got this sense that something was being overlooked. And so Klopatek is in uniform at an old guard’s desk with his copy of Dune and he’s making small talk with his supervisor played by Di'Monte Henning and they’ve got the mood and the feel of third shift security down perfectly because I’m sitting there feeling the cheap polyester midnight blue on my body feeling like I need to be doing something rather than listening to this conversation. There’s got to be a surveillance camera monitor that I’ve got to be watching or some paperwork I need to be doing or something. They’re just sitting there in character having a conversation. In character Henning says that he needs to go on patrol and I’m thinking: “YES! You DO!” The restlessness is getting to me because there are patrols to get to and it’s third shift and I need to be doing something. It’s funny how the subtle things can lock-in an atmosphere. Empty space. Silence around the edges. The right desk. A guy in a work uniform I used to wear and another in a blazer and I feel like it’s third shift beneath the big clock south of downtown at the dawn of the millennium all over again. Director C. Michael Wright has done a really good job of delivering the atmosphere here. It supports the drama wonderfully.
Lobby Hero continues through Dec. 18 in the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre on 158 N. Broadway. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online.