I AM NOT A COMEDIAN … I’M LENNY BRUCE

Ronnie Marmo brings the ground-breaking standup comic legend Lenny Bruce back to scabrously funny, heartbreakingly poignant life in I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce, the latest from Theatre 68.

Though not the first time Marmo has played Bruce, whose mix of satire, politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity made him both famous and infamous back in the 1960s, unlike the actor’s previous foray into Lenny-land, Lenny Bruce Is Back (And Boy Is He Pissed), this time round co-scripters Marmo and Jason Burns have secured the rights to Lenny’s actual words, which makes all the difference in the world.

I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce opens on August 3, 1966 with a naked (albeit strategically lit) Lenny lying dead on a bathroom floor at the age of forty before rising, pulling up his boxers, and filling us in on “how I got here.”

That was as Leonard Alfred Schneider, born on October 13, 1925, the “crazy combination” of a British father and a Long Island Jewish mother with a thing for swatting flies because, as she put it, “they carry diseases,” something that always confused Lenny because “my cousin gave three guys the clap and nobody ever hit her with a rolled-up newspaper.”

Taking “Lenny Marsalle” as his stage name, a then eleven-year-old Bruce made his stage debut at a club where his mother worked as a dancer, and despite a talcum powder-meets-brown suede shoes disaster, young Lenny put his very first heckler in his place and a standup comic was born.

Segue into one of Lenny’s most famous/infamous comedic riffs, the one that began “Are there any n—–s here tonight?” and then got Lenny into a whole heap of legal trouble despite his stated intention to make the N-word so harmless that “no black kid would ever cry when somebody called him a n—– in school.”

And then there was the time back in 1964 when an “obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure” performance got Lenny arrested after a police officer attended three of his shows and jotted down every “ass,” “balls,” and “cocksucker” that emerged from Lenny’s mouth, then had to replicate Lenny’s act in his courtroom testimony minus Lenny’s comedic gifts.

Three women figure prominently in I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce.

There was Lenny’s mom Sally Marr, who taught her precocious son where babies come from by taking him to a local makeout spot and shining a flashlight into a car; his stripper wife Honey Harlow, the composite of the Virgin Mary and a 500-dollar-a-night whore … and the love of Lenny’s life; and his daughter Brandy Kathleen Bruce, nicknamed Kitty because Brandy sounded too much like a stripper’s name (as if Kitty were any less stripperesque).

Highs and lows and joys and heartbreaks (both professional and personal), I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce has them all, and if there were some opening night nerves, there’s no denying the authenticity and comedic/dramatic flair of Marmo’s multi-hued Lenny under the guiding eye of director Joe Mantegna.

Production designer Danny Cistone gives I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce a striking, appropriately surreal look, one complemented by Matt Richter’s dramatic lighting, with a solo sax providing just the right jazzy musical underscoring throughout.

I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce is produced by Marmo and Katy Jacoby. Hope Bello LaRoux is stage manager. Monika Dovnar is assistant production designer and Adam Earle is assistant lighting designer. Lenny’s wardrobe is by M.J. Scott.

The seventy-two-minute play ends with a pair of voice recordings, first of a Chris Rock routine so crammed with four-letter words, it makes the infamous Lenny Bruce riff on organized religion that follows seem positively G-rated by comparison.

It also makes subtly, brilliantly clear what a groundbreaker Lenny Bruce was for today’s standup stars, and how important, now more than ever, it is to have voices that speak the truth regardless of the consequences.

I Am Not A Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce lets Lenny live again.

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Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Through July 29. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 3:00. Reservations: 323 960-5068
www.theatre68.com

–Steven Stanley
June 23, 2017
Photos: Doren Sorell Photography

 

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