Written by Ronnie Marmo & Jason M. Burns
Directed by Joe Mantegna
I have to admit that I am far from a Lenny Bruce aficionado.
In fact, before I saw this play, I had actually never seen any of his work, although I had heard of him and how he influenced so many of my favorite comedians. George Carlin, Chris Rock and Richard Prior all lay their success at his door. He broke new ground, taking comedy in totally different directions with his story telling style, fearlessness to talk about race and social issues, and his use of racy language. He fought for the right to the free speech we take for granted, pushing the boundaries of what was once considered obscene, and forcing America to look at the terrible societal injustices of his time. His life ended tragically in an unintended overdose and marked the shamefully, untimely end of a brilliant man.
The play “I am Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce” opening on June 23rd at Theatre 68, chronicles the life and death of this fascinating man who has become such an icon since his death. It gives us an insight into his life, his love and the terrible battles he had with drugs, alcohol and depression.
Ronnie Marmo plays Lenny and for all intents and purposes, on stage at least, he actually becomes Lenny Bruce.
With the support of Lenny’s family, Ronnie has created a play that feels more like an intense flashback into pivotal moments in Lenny’s life, narrated by the man himself. It is a retrospective of sorts of his life, told with kindness, candor and the kind of truth that Lenny himself was always battling for.
Ronnie Marmo fills the stage with his vivid interpretation of Lenny and, as he takes us through the journey of Lenny’s life, interspersing the show with uncannily accurate performances of excerpts from Lenny’s actual stand up, we watch with a mixture of sadness and awe as this brilliant man careens from ecstasy to despair and everything in-between.
This is not the first play that Ronnie Marmo has been involved in about Lenny Bruce. Indeed it seems as if, over the course of his career, he has been drawn somehow to this particular man’s pain and the exposing of it on stage is heartbreaking and intense, absolutely hilarious at times as well as being sad beyond words.
Why must the brilliance of wit and the gift of empathy conspire to give us humans who will enlighten and absolve us and then, once we love them, inevitably leave us all… in tragic and humorless ways.
This play is an ingenious adaptation of one man's life. Beginning at the end we travel backwards bringing the knowledge of what came before to the situations unfolding. How much simpler would our lives be if we had the power to see ourselves as we see Lenny Bruce’s played out for us on stage. How many of us would make very different choices from the ones we have in our lives with hindsight or forewarning.
It’s a sad but glorious life that Lenny had. Mythological even, brilliant, passionate, frustrating and sad. But it did change things. Even after his death he continued to have impact and influence. He lit the torch that so many who came after him would carry - to say what they wanted, regardless of who they may offend, to speak the truth, to understand that your audience is intelligent and open and eager to be told some new truth, and that they deserve just that.
Director Joe Mantegna supports Ronnie Marmo’s incredible work.
The clever use of the simplest of settings and props, keeping all our attention on Lenny, is a brilliant manipulation of our emotions - all eyes on him, all the time, never wondering for a minute who is in control. I also loved the attention paid to the sound. When Lenny’s stand up takes center stage the mic sounds just a touch vintage, straight out of a 60’s nightclub or even a boxing ring announcer. It takes the audience to where we need to be, at once transported to where Lenny is at his most truthful, standing in front of an audience, mic in hand, ready to shock ‘n roll.
I highly recommend “I am not a Comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce” at Theatre 68.
It has an achingly timeless quality to it, Ronnie Marmo is totally mesmerizing and his surreal attachment to this icon gives him the power to bring him back…if only a little and if only for 90 minutes three times a week.
June 23 - July 29 Friday & Saturday 8PM; Sunday 3PM
Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601