Sunday, August 26, 2018


 The legend of Lenny Bruce, the controversial performance artist (we honor his wish that he is not a comedian), comes to life in NoHo before traveling to bright lights: big city.  Ronnie Marmo's committed performance: dedicated to the twentieth century muck-racker and his crusade to bring free speech to life has been tried over time with fine performances by Dustin Hoffman  and others.  Frank Zappa, another sixties genius who stretched the limits of 'good taste' championed Lenny Bruce and Free Speech as well.  What Marmo does with his eighty-five minutes of nuance, fine tunes Lenny's character with all of the depth and insight that the champion deserves.  He does not so much become Lenny Bruce, but rather enlivens the spirit of the man. He is a force to be reckoned with in his rendition of the life and times of a man, who brought to the surface  truths that some folks don't want to deal with. 
Often this finger is blurred. We all know the finger!

Bruce's litany of the cultural aphorisms depicting the members of his audience heard on record albums of his live performances becomes a tone poem that mitigates the sting  of every epithet, reducing the words to sounds that, in fact have no power other than the power that society insists they contain.  When used by someone whose intention is to do harm, every niggerspicmickkikeandwop stings. Every time an epithet is spewed in hate or derision using terms  such as "The N Word!"  our brains supply the name. Which is worse.. the sound or the echo in our minds?  Other less loaded epithets show the prejudice of the speaker, of course,  but what it comes down to is that they are only words and it's the person who utters them in hate or prejudice or disgust that carries the responsibility of their doing damage.  We must consider the source, especially now in the land of outrageous 'tweets' from 'on high' that reveal the true character of the tweeter.

We begin at the end of Bruce's life with his naked body slumped on a toilet, placed there by the blue nosed meanies who pursued him relentlessly in the days when the First Amendment was governed by prejudice and fear.  Marmo then brings Bruce to life with his birth (October 13, 1925) and shares his simple beginnings and his deep love and admiration for his mother who was a "Jill of many trades."  At the age of 22, in 1947, he was pressed into service as an emcee at a club where his mother was a performer. He got his first laugh and that rush carried him along a bumpy twenty year career of bringing to light the hypocrisy of the uptight fifties and into the sixties, dogged by 'indecency' laws but still bringing to light the truth that free speech is vital and important to a free society.  

Echoing some of Bruce's well known routines, Marmo sweetens the pot by discussing a rooster and a lollipop.  He confronts the crowd by substituting 'blah  blah blah' for the obvious references and polls the men in the audience by show of hands whether we have ever had our "blah" "Blahed!" Hands in the air, rhythms on cue, the air is charged with a 21st century understanding of what the last century was incapable of.  Analogies and logic and the embarrassment of a cop testifying before a judge reading notes of the 'obscenities' that drove Bruce into financial ruin and probably to his death .. his frustration.. all fall into place with director Joe Mantegna's subtle hand.  Indeed, staging a play with one actor performing the gamut of emotions from the exuberance of youth through a mad love affair with the love of his life, Honey Friedman Bruce, to alcohol and drugs...  to his inevitable demise.. just plain succeeds.  Audience participation succeeds.  A second "character," the dramatic lighting design by Matt Richter really works.  Recorded jazz underscores perfectly.  The play is successful and even though we know the ending from curtain up, Marmo brings Bruce back to life. The result is a primer on the First Amendment; a primer on passion: sexual  in the most obvious sense and Bruce's  eternal quest for the 'Truth.' 

George Carlin's "Seven Words",.. the brilliance of Richard Pryor and maybe even lounge acts like Redd Foxx, Belle Barth and Rusty Warren all owe a debt of gratitude to the wit and passions of Lenny Bruce. If one is easily shocked by 'inappropriate' words, all the more reason to go!  Find out how the truth lies not in the words, but in their intent and how we may  so easily be manipulated by self appointed authority telling adults what is 'decent' and what is not. 

Find your way to Theatre 68 and send this show to New York with a bullet.   

I’M LENNY BRUCE” by Ronnie Marmo
Directed by Joe Mantgena
Theatre 68
5112 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA. 91601 
Through September 9, 2018
Friday and Saturday 8:00PM 
Sunday at 3:00PM
General admission $35.00 
Tickets and information:
 (323) 960.5068.    
Mature Audiences:  Nudity!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Mark Lonow ran The Improv Comedy Club for over thirty years and has a distinction that few of us may have. Not only did The Improv see the rise of some of the world's best stand up comics, but  his granduncle Yakov Sverdlov was influential in the Russian Revolution of 1905. He was the guy who signed the death warrant for Czar Nicholas II and led the firing squad! The first president of Stalin's Russia!

That said, how a kid with such a notorious family past wound up in comedy is a story.  Part of that story takes place in 1966 Brighton Beach,  New York (these characters are real). It unfolds as might have been told had Herb Gardner sat down with Neil Simon and with a bottle of Manscheviz to discuss the early days of being Jewish kids. Of course, those writers have nothing on Clifford Odets, who in AWAKE AND SING! painted a scene that floats on pathos and strong characters. Though Lonow is considerably younger than  these celebrated playwrights.. the schtick that has come to visit is not much of a gift. The title alone is a little frightening: JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND SCREWING STALIN!  It bumps along on Joel Daavid's gorgeous set and has all the grace of a struggling sitcom. Had Minka not had the wall between the kitchen and the "sitting room" removed, it could almost be the home of Edith and Archie Bunker!
Zayda/John Pleshette Photo by Ed Krieger
We get off to a fine start with Murray (very casual John Pleshette), the now deceased husband of Minka (Cathy Ladman) who runs the rooming house where the two of them raised their son, David (Travis York) and their son's son, Joey (Hunter Milano) aka Joseph.  The characters come on loud and strong.  The interesting contrast that we see in Pleshette's bringing Murray gently to 'life' and the others is a mish mash of acting that flaunts stereotypes left and right.  All that's missing is a side man with  snare drum and cymbals to punctuate the patter with rim shots.

Following Simon, Gardner and Odets, authors Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow bring the past to life in 1966. It's hard not to make a comparison.  It may have been problematic for Lonow to have directed his own work as the predictable schtick prevails over the somewhat touching story that may have emerged without all the shouting. Louder is not better. The sticky plot puts Bubby/Minka center stage sometimes observed by Murray who has discovered that even as a hard core atheist (He got more Jewish as time was short) that he's in Paradise with all of his Russian heros, Trotsky, Lenin and even Harpo Marx accompanying some of the exposition with his harp.  "Minnie should have taught you to play accordion ... "  Rim shot!

Stock characters include the nosy roomer, Feinstein (oy such a yenta Laura Julian) and totally superfluous brief encounters with bent over Mr. Goldman (Marty Ross and poor Miss Koppelson (Sally Schaub) who farts!  It's tsuris mit der tsimmes.

Aspiring actor, Joey, brings his red headed Irish/Catholic/Presbyterian intended (completely over the top Sammi Jack-Martincak)  to the family Yom Kippur seder. (Thanks to my editor, I learn that this is a holiday nor a fish: "kipper!")  Joey has no idea that Bubby has invited his dad, David, the alcoholic ne'er-do-well wheeler dealer who abandoned Joey when Joey's mother died, leaving him in the care of Murray and Minka. Anger and hate foment but it's the Day of Atonement, so after a few rough spots, we see the inevitable unfold

Director Lonow has allowed eight actors to pretty much do their own thing as the story evolves. The prime directive must have been to "PROJECT!" The cast pretty much did just that, with the exception of Pleshette whose relaxed and down to earth exposition from Paradise is a marked contrast to the shouts from some of the other actors. Hamlet's advice to the players might be required reading for these folks Why shouting and wild exclamations were encouraged or allowed with literally no room for building their characters made the play more of a farce than it was probably intended. What must have looked great on the page became schtick for schtick's sake leaving the arc of the play predictable though there are moments of pathos and some funny stuff. This includes Minka's confession that she did 'you know' with Joseph Stalin.. and most of the other guys as well as a little hanky panky with Emma Goldman, when, as a girl, she was footloose and fancy free in Moscow!  

A world premiere by Mark Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow
Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Through September 23, 2018
Tickets and Information
 353 960 4412 


Wednesday, August 15, 2018


 (Forefront) Jeffrey Sun, John Pendergast, and (Background):  Alfonso Faustino, Lisa Gaye Tomlinson and Jennifer Vo Le

Henry David Hwang’s autobiographical treatise on race and the definition of just what exactly is an ‘Asian’ was first produced through East West Players in conjunction with the Mark Taper Forum in the spring of 2007. After a run at the Taper the play went to The Public Theatre in New York City and more recently to San Francisco.  On the page, Yellow Face has moments that made me laugh out loud. On the stage, a slightly different story.  HDH’s reputation as a playwright expands in this wonky presentational production to be true to “proper casting” ie. Asians in Asian roles. 

Jeffrey Sun as HDH and Roman Moretti as Marcus retain their singular roles while the rest of the cast takes on the remaining supporting parts. The play guides us step by step through the business of the bruhaha in 1990 regarding Cameron McIntosh's production of Miss Saigon and the casting of an Anglo actor, Jonathan Pryce, in that show which HDH reacted to with strong criticism. It then evolves in time to the troubles that he, himself faces when casting for his own production of a comedy, Face Value, a farce  that is a comic take on the casting of Anglos in Asian roles. Reference to this failed show is noted by presenting two of the actual stars, Jane Kazmerick (Lisagaye Tomlinson) and Mark Linn Baker (possibly Dennis Nolette) who comment on the social aspects of success.

Strong presentations by Jennifer Vo Le, Nollette, Tomlinson and especially John Pendergast as the Announcer / “Name Withheld On Advice of Council” are commendable, if somewhat over the top from time to time. I loved the tete a tete between HDH and NWOAC: a dance of power with the reporter saying he has all he needs to write a story about the playwright and HDH smiling that he has enough of the reporter to write his play that includes him!  The reporter threatens to sue, thus.. his name is withheld on 'advice of counsel.'

Director Robert Zimmerman sets the stage efficiently with seven bentwood chairs and actors to fill them.  The play moves off and on through the Fourth Wall with pace taking a nose dive  when Alfanso Faustino has his turn as HDH’s father, HYH, and other characters including BD Wong.  Though Faustino’s characterizations are heart felt, the play grinds to a snail’s pace, making the rest of the cast struggle to move things up to speed again.

Yellow Face by Henry David Hwang
Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 S. Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Through September 26, 2018
Friday and Saturday at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM 
Tickets and information: