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!

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