I Am Not Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Through July 29
Co-writers Ronnie Marmo and Jason M. Burns have created an inventive portrait of comedian Lenny Bruce. The show underscores the arc of a brilliant career that was cut short at the age of 40 due to an accidental drug overdose. Infused with a sampling of the comedian’s off-the-cuff, riff-like performance style, Marmo (who also stars) ably inhabits Bruce’s persona. Director Joe Mantengna establishes a seamless flow of story and comedic performance, utilizing Theatre 68’s stage area to optimum effect. Texturing the proceedings are the lighting, production, and sound designs of Matthew Richter.
The show opens, and Bruce is dead, lying naked on the bathroom floor of his Hollywood Hills home on August 3rd, 1966. (The tragic and iconic stage picture is perfectly lit by Richter.) Marmo rises and addresses the audience.
Young Jewish-American Lenny Bruce was raised by his mother, dancer/comedian Sally Marr. Marmo. Lenny had his intro to stand-up comedy at a young age, and once he got his first laugh, he was hooked.
The show explains the comedian’s evolution as a hot young star during the rise of the West Coast jazz scene in LA during the 1950s. It also chronicles the harrowing relationship with his wife, stripper/showgirl Honey Harlow, as well as his descent into drug addiction and the birth of his daughter Kitty Bruce in 1955. It is evident that Honey was the great love of Lenny’s life. Yet, incapable of changing his lifestyle, she left him. Ironically, due to Honey’s own legal problems, Lenny Bruce got custody of their daughter.
The main focuses of this one-man play are the tragic consequences of being a comedian before his time: Bruce was constantly harassed and arrested for indecency while exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. I am Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce pinpoints the ethno-social taboos that were still in place during the 50s and 60s, stifling the comedian’s attempts to spotlight the hypocrisies rife in society, religion, politics, and business.
Marmo hilariously recreates the efforts of a nervous policeman reading from his notes, attempting to do Lenny Bruce’s comedy act in court as a means of incriminating him. Meanwhile, Lenny pleads with the judge: “Let me do my act for you.” Beaten down and near bankruptcy, Lenny ended up sentenced to Rikers Island Prison for four months. While out on appeal, Lenny Bruce died.
As evidenced in the show’s closing clips from comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, Lenny Bruce paved the way for those who followed. Kitty Bruce petitioned Governor Pataki to pardon Lenny in 2003. It was granted.
Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri. & Sat, 8pm, Sun., 3pm. Through July 29. Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.