BWW Review: I AM NOT A COMEDIAN - I'M LENNY BRUCE Will Open Your Eyes to his Comedic Genius and Dedication to Free Speech
The World Premiere of "I AM NOT A COMEDIAN...I'M Lenny Bruce" starring the incomparable Ronnie Marmo as the legendary comedian, directed by multi award winning Joe Mantegna, is now playing through July 29, 2017 at Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, CA. 91601. The show chronicles the life and death of the most controversial comedian of the mid-20th Century who was busted for obscenity and fought for freedom of speech all the way to the Supreme Court. He accidentally died of an overdose in 1966, while out on appeal, an event which is staged as the opening and closing on the play. Be forewarned, the courageous Marmo appears totally naked in both scenes!
An undisputed comic legend, Lenny Bruce was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His life and work have had an impact on poetry, politics, music, film and comedy from Don Rickles to Richard Pryor and Chris Rock, and any other comedian who is now free to speak his/her mind without fear of legal retribution thanks to Bruce challenging our First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Lenny's tempestuous personal and professional life which Marmo embodies with his body, heart and soul, was marked by great passion and great pain, thanks to his unwavering commitment to free speech, which led to numerous obscenity charges and arrests.
Directed with great skill by Joe Mantega, Marmo thoroughly commands the stage and audience from start to finish. I learned that at age 22 in a nightclub in Brooklyn, Lenny Bruce began the stand-up career that would define his life. Gigs in the New York-New Jersey area followed, and he once appeared at an "amateur night" for $2 and cab fare home. In 1948, Bruce won Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts Show and began to get booked in bigger and better venues, such as New York's Strand, and make enough money to support himself.
One year after leaving his European tour in the Merchant Navy in the early 1950's, Bruce married Honey Harlow, a stripper he had met and fallen in love with in a bar. To get away from stripping, Harlow worked on her singing, joining Bruce onstage at some of his shows. In 1953, the couple moved to Northern California, where Bruce worked on perfecting his stand-up by exploring darker themes involving harsh language and controversial topics. Thus began the career of probably the first and most controversial comedian ever to take the stage, never shying away from making fun of anyone or anything in the coarsest of terms to get the attention he so desperately needed.
Marmo brilliantly leads the audience through the many ups and downs of Bruce's hard life, born to a British father and Long Island Jewish mother, whose neuroses led to much of Bruce's off-color humor. Each short bit stands in its own right, with Marmo masterfully commanding the stage with his powerful character representation, including Bruce's descent into hard drugs - a scene that was truly difficult to watch in its realistic depiction.
As the 1960s rolled around, so did trouble for Lenny Bruce. In the fall of 1961, he was arrested for possession of prescription narcotics and for obscenity while performing onstage. He was acquitted of the latter charge in 1962, but the police began monitoring his shows. Also in 1962, the now-controversial comedian was banned from playing Australia and was again arrested for drug possession and on two separate obscenity charges, with figures such as Woody Allen, Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg coming to his aid during the trial (in November 1964, a guilty verdict came in nonetheless).
To enhance the many changing scenes and emotions in the small space (about 70 seats), lighting, projection and sound designer Matthew Richter is to be commended for pinpointing attention to create Bruce's many changes moods and situations. Danny Cistone's stage design allows for many locales to be represented in such a small space, with Marmo's many walks up the center aisle of the audience allowing him to directly interact with people Bruce may just have confronted with the most socially incorrect language.
Ronnie Marmo enjoyed a three-year run on ABC's General Hospital as Ronnie Dimestico, and on stage has starred in more than 30 plays as well as directed over 50 stage productions and produced about 100 in Los Angeles and New York. He continues to serve at the Artistic Director of Theatre 68 (68 Cent Crew Theatre Company) in Los Angeles and New York City. This show proves to be the perfect star showcase for Marmo, who has been performing as Lenny Bruce for the past decade. His reincarnation of the comedic genius that was Lenny Bruce is not to be missed!
"I AM NOT A COMEDIAN...I'M Lenny Bruce" runs through July 29, 2017 at Theatre 68, located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA. 91601, with performances on Friday and Saturday 8:00PM and Sunday at 3:00PM. General admission $25. Running time 85 minutes. Tickets available at: www.Theatre 68.com Additional information at (323) 960.5068. NOTE: This show is for Mature Audiences due to adult language and brief nudity. And a big thank you to Ronnie and Joe was NOT including the constant cigarettes smoked by Lenny Bruce during his life on and off stage.