By Ronnie Marmo; Directed by Joe Mantegna
Produced by Theatre 68
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 1.25.19
The Cutting Room, 44 East 32nd Street
by Ken Kaissar on 12.18.18
Ronnie Marmo in I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce. Photo by Doren Sorell Photography.
BOTTOM LINE: An impeccably accurate and moving depiction of the life and death of Lenny Bruce.
Lenny Bruce lives on at The Cutting Room and is currently giving reports of his demise—which are sadly not exaggerated. As the show begins, we meet Lenny Bruce (the brilliant Ronnie Marmo) completely naked, sitting atop a toilet. He explains that this was the state in which he was found dead on August 3, 1966, as a result of a drug overdose. And with that, he proceeds to walk us through his story from his early career to his very last day.
More than just a comedian, Lenny Bruce was a social commentator, provocateur, and philosopher. He set out to do more than just make his audience laugh; he made them aware of their hypocrisy, and awakened them from a slumber of complacency. As a result, not all of his appearances were met with uproarious laughter. He angered and outraged as regularly as he amused. And this is why exploring his comedy in the form of theatre is more satisfying than merely listening to recordings of his routines. The theatre invites us to laugh, but also to appreciate the quiet intimacy of Bruce’s more serious moments—ones that might have disappointed an audience expecting gut-busting comedy. Along with his hilarious jokes, Bruce always had something urgently important to say, and he rarely cared if you found it funny or not.
Ronnie Marmo is perfection as Lenny Bruce. His cadences and phrasing are spot on. Unlike the actor who plays Bruce on Amazon’s hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Marmo has perfected the slurred diction of a strung-out Jew that was Bruce’s trademark. As a comic, Marmo is uproariously funny, but more impressively, he intricately captures the nuances of Bruce’s gradual descent into self-destruction. In every new scene, Marmo is incrementally more angry and strung out, and his ability to steadily but almost imperceptibly intensify his descent is impressive. We don't so much watch a character evolve as we watch a human being age.
Legendary stage and screen actor Joe Mantegna directs Marmo in this solo performance, brilliantly creating several environments that differentiate between Bruce’s standup act and theatrical narration. My enjoyment was only enhanced by setting the piece in an actual cabaret space. Sitting at a table with other guests and watching Bruce lean on a microphone stand makes it feel like you have traveled back in time to experience the real Lenny Bruce.
A word of caution—there was nothing that Lenny Bruce was afraid to say on stage. He unscrupulously peppered his act with the “n” word as well as the “k,” “s,” “m,” and “w” words just for good measure. He used these words to make a point about taboos and the dangers of censoring language that frightens us. Though he had a worthwhile agenda, these words are not so easy to hear onstage. There were frequent audible gasps from the audience, and anyone who chooses to attend the show should be prepared.
Whether you admire, revere, revile, or have never investigated Lenny Bruce, you should not miss I’m Not a Comedian. This show will give you the opportunity to learn and experience who he was with all of his attributes, deficiencies, and vulnerabilities. Marmo’s play give us a chance to clearly see the messy human being as opposed to the legend that many comics remember. I’m more in awe of the messy human being.
(I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce plays at The Cutting Room, 44 East 32nd Street, through January 25, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Tickets are $50, $70, and $125. Performance schedule is irregular, with matinees at 1 and 2, and evenings at 7, 8, and 10; visit LennyBruceOnStage.com for show times and tickets.)
I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce is written and performed by Ronnie Marmo. Directed by Joe Mantegna. Set Design and Lighting Design by Matt Richter. Costume Design by Lauren Winnenberg. Sound Design by Hope Bello LaRoux. Music by Michael NOMAD Ripoli. Stage Manager is Kathryn Loggins.