Lobby Hero, the acclaimed 2002 play from Kenneth Lonergan, had its Piccolo premier on Saturday night at the Chapel Theater. College of Charleston grad David Lee Nelson directed a cast of young, accomplished actors who performed well enough to make a long, wavering story respectable and interesting.

Set in an apartment building’s modest lobby, the plot revolves around an ebullient security guard whose outgoing nature penetrates a fellow guard’s desire for discipline, rectitude, and honesty. Themes of morality and conflicted values are peppered with comedic turns and slices of contemporary city life.

Jamie Smithson plays the lead character, Jeff, with energy and comedic wit. Jeff passes the hours in the lobby flipping through newspapers and tearing at his hair until somebody he can talk to arrives. William is Jeff’s fellow security guard, a man defined by his dedication to duty and the solemn vow that he will always tell the truth. As written, William is a beefy, intimidating guy, but one who also has a tender side. The fact that a woman — CofC acting professor Joy Vandervort-Cobb — portrays William enhances the character’s complex and conflicted circumstances. Vandervort-Cobb uses as much discipline in her performance as her character does in his job. She walks away with a fully inhabited character study that is a pleasure to watch.

The trouble begins when William’s brother is arrested for murder. William’s morals are compromised when his brother asks him to provide a false alibi.

The investigation draws two police officers to the stage. Dawn is a rookie female cop struggling to find her place in a male-dominated profession. Played by Mandy Schmieder, Dawn is a gentle and determined officer whose main flaw is getting partnered with the wrong guy. Her partner, Bill, played by Paul Rolfes, is a domineering status-seeker. Rolfes commands the stage with an aggressive strut and pounding voice, but Schmieder holds her own, balancing Dawn’s vulnerability with courage.

The plot germinates and the characters are forced to confront their morals. Feelings are hurt and relationships turn sour. Eventually, the direction of the story grows transparent, which is not a terrible thing, considering it provides time to enjoy the fine acting and comedic asides. On the other hand, when you know where a story is headed, you naturally want it to get there. But this play keeps going. Clocking in at over two hours, it is an endurance test for the audience and the actors.

The stage has a minimal set — a burgundy rug, two chairs, a desk and chandelier set the tone for this dialogue-driven drama. But while the set is simple, the dialogue is crowded. Jeff unravels as a voluble mishmash of confused intention. Dawn and Bill have heated arguments. William works to accept his choices. Each of these scenarios is a key component to the story, but the audience could still understand the story without any of these elements.
Towards the end of Saturday’s show, just as Jeff expresses his inability to articulate his problems to Dawn, prefacing his speech with, “I have a hypothetical situation I want to tell you about,” the lights went out in the Chapel Theater.

For an awkward, pleasing moment silence and darkness reigned. Then Jeff, without missing a beat, opined, “But it’s so fucking dark in here.”

This reflects Lobby Hero ’s predicament. It has good material and a talented, dexterous cast. But there’s dialogue saturation. More dark and quiet interludes would allow these actors proper room to shine.

Lobby Hero • Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle Di Domani Series • $15-$20 • 2 hours • May 24, 26, 30, June 1, 5, 7 at 8:30 p.m.; May 25, 31, June 4, 6 at 5 p.m. • Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • (888) 374-2656