Kenneth Lonergan Explores What’s Changed—And What Hasn’t—Since Lobby Hero First Premiered

Interview   Kenneth Lonergan Explores What’s Changed—And What Hasn’t—Since Lobby Hero First Premiered
 
The Oscar-winning playwright’s 2001 play makes its Broadway premiere this season with a cast including Michael Cera and Chris Evans.
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Chris Evans, Kenneth Lonergan, Bel Powley, Brian Tyree Henry, Trip Cullman, and Michael Cera Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero premiered Off-Broadway in 2001, he was in his first year of marriage and juggling the production with his first Oscars season (nominated for his You Can Count on Me screenplay). He had yet to see his work hit Broadway.

Chris Evans, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Brian Tyree Henry
Chris Evans, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Brian Tyree Henry Mark Seliger

Now Lobby Hero—about four New Yorkers involved in a murder investigation—is back, and circumstances have changed: He and his wife J. Cameron-Smith have a teenage daughter; he won an Oscar for Manchester By the Sea; he made his Broadway debut as a playwright in 2014.

“I feel a little less grounded now,” Lonergan admits as Lobby Hero prepares for a March 26 opening at the newly renovated Hayes Theatre. “I’m a little fancier than I was then. And I feel a little less comfortable.”

The Second Stage Theater production, starring Michael Cera (Juno), Chris Evans (Captain America), Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), is Lonergan’s second time revisiting a past work for the Broadway stage. This Is Our Youth premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 before the 2014 production (also starring Cera). But both instances involved him doing little more than the occasional line revision.

“I don’t believe I would have the same insights into this story that I had when I was writing it,” he says. “You’re not the same person who wrote that play, and you don’t have any business fiddling around with it. I know other people who successfully rewrite their material or update it, but I don’t believe I could do that.”

Even without new text, the play’s issues remain relevant. As moral codes and personal behavior clash, a hauntingly familiar tableaux of abuses of power and sexual misconduct in a male-dominated workforce are on full display.

“The issues are just as alive now as they were then,” he says, but hopes the play’s relevance does not rely solely on the exploration of particular social movements.

“The play is really about a series of nearly unviable dilemmas. People are struggling against their idea of what the right thing to do is versus their personal feelings, which come into conflict with their own ideals. That’s something I think people will have to grapple with forever.”

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