The lobby of a Manhattan apartment building. Four New Yorkers: two doormen, two police officers, all working the night shift. Secrets traded, the truth obscured, a murder investigation that touches each person differently.
“The play is about the conflict between ideals, self-interest, and emotional life,” said playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan, whose 2001 play “Lobby Hero” is being revived at Helen Hayes Theater in New York City though the Second Stage Theater Company.
Earlier this month, 29 students and 10 faculty and staff from Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House traveled to see the play through the generosity of playwright and director James Lapine ’71.
Lapine is a 12-time Tony Award nominee and three-time winner. He has received five Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, he and his family started the F&M Lapine Family Endowment. It provides for an annual lecture by an eminent theater artist, a poetry fellowship for emerging artists and writers, and the opportunity for F&M students, faculty, and staff to travel to New York City to see Broadway and off-Broadway productions.
In “Lobby Hero,” Chris Evans made his Broadway debut in the production alongside Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Cera and Bel Powley. After the performance, Lonergan met with F&M students for a talkback, which Lapine facilitated.
Lonergan, a resident playwright at the Signature Theatre Company, is the 2017 Oscar-winning writer of “Manchester By the Sea.” His first film, “You Can Count On Me,” which he wrote and directed, was an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay.
In a robust conversation, students asked questions about Lonergan’s writing process, working with directors and actors, and his relationship with the characters he writes.
“I like to know a little about every character’s life in a way that doesn’t impact the play — until it does,” said Lonergan. “You want everyone who’s there to be interesting. You don’t want an actor to be wasted or to be a function of someone else.”
He said, “All styles have to be truthful in some way — at least emotionally truthful. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no difference at all between comedy and drama — I find that they go well together.”
Lapine asked Lonergan if writing invades his dreams. “I usually have [my current project] at the back of my head all the time if I’m really engaged,” Lonergan said. “When I get inspiration, it’s like a glowing coal — you have to catch it before it gets cold.”
Lonergan gave students advice for their own projects.
“Believe in your own interests. The voice that captures your own excitement or imagination is the one worth listening to,” he said.
"Kenneth Lonergan was reassuringly real. He provided us with no fluff and was eager to hear our opinions and engage in discussion with us. It was a lot like talking to a friend about his life's work or sitting at the editing table and considering the different depths of a play," said senior Kylie Logan of Waldwick, N.J., a joint major in creative writing and international studies with a minor in Spanish.
Following the talkback, Lapine, who sat with students, faculty, and staff during the performance, happily spoke with grateful students and posed for photos.