Tom Ross says he’s been trying to bring “Lobby Hero” to the Aurora Theater ever since he first saw it in New York three years ago at the Playwright’s Horizon. He’s finally made it: The play opens this weekend on Friday night and runs through Dec. 21.
Ross, who’s been the producing director of Aurora Theater for the last 12 years—sharing managing director duties with the near-legendary Barbara Oliver—is directing the play himself. (One suspects that he wasn’t about to let anybody else get their hands on this particular brain child: He’s put too much into getting it here).
The playwright, Kenneth Lonergan is probably best known for his screenplays. He wrote and directed “You Can Count on Me,” was one of the writers on “Gangs of New York,” and wrote “Analyze This.” Ross describes “Lobby Hero” as “ebbing and flowing. There are no heroes or villains,” he says. “Just four people trying to do the right thing.” He says “It’s incredible dialogue, very funny, very moving.”
The title suddenly makes sense when you find out that the four people he’s talking about are a security guard, an uptight boss, and two cops: one male, one a female rookie.
During Ross’ three-year struggle to bring the play to Berkeley, he says that it became “a big hit” in London. He sounds a bit distressed that a Los Angeles theater managed to snag it for the West Coast premiere, but brightens over the fact that at least this will be the East Bay premiere.
Ross tries to get to New York every year to scout for new plays as well as to renew old ties. He’s one of those ex-New Yorkers who can never quite give up his apartment there—just rents it out, keeping his hold on it, just in case... This has gone on for over twelve years, of course, but he has good reasons to keep his hold on the city fresh.
While he’s back there, aside from seeing old friends, he takes in one or two plays a day, and meets with agents and performers. It’s a classic busman’s holiday, perfectly appropriate for a guy who learned his stuff at New York’s renowned Public Theater as a co-director and producer under Joseph Papp.
Ross wrote plays in high school and went to New York from Chicago on acting scholarships, but knew he wanted something else: He “wanted to create my own world.” He says “Producing is addictive.”
It must be. He’s done over 200 productions .
His version of the work is simple. He says his job is to “bring in the artists, get the money, and over-see the production.” Saying that’s “simple” is a little like saying there are two kinds of people, tall and short. “Lobby Hero” is the first play of the season and will open this weekend.
In addition to directing this production he is working on next season’s plays.
What he looks for, he says, are things that are interesting, that will work for the audiences, and that will meet the limitations presented by the theater. He wants “intelligent plays, plays with an emphasis on ideas.” He selects an eclectic mix of styles, mixing comedies and dramas, but always offering one world premiere.
Aurora uses local actors, Ross says, about 80 percent of whom are members of Actors Equity. Since the theater pays all of the actors equally regardless of the size of their parts or their membership, the only immediate benefit to the actors in belonging to the professional organization is that the theater pays for healthcare and pension benefits for members.
Everybody knows that actors put in incredible hours, usually supporting themselves with “day jobs” in addition to their weeks of evening rehearsals and performances. But how about a kind word for the producers, juggling the details of more than one season at a time, maybe directing the occasional play in addition?
It doesn’t make sense: It must be love.