One morning on my bike ride to work I was on the phone with my dad in Chicago. He’s off on Fridays.
“Have you ever heard of Lenny Bruce?” I asked him.
“Isabella,” he said, mildly stunned, “if there were a Mount Rushmore of comedy greats, he would be on it.”
Going in to Ronnie Marmo’s one-man performance of his historical adaptation of the life of Lenny Bruce, I'm Not A Comedian... I'm Lenny Bruce, I knew nothing but what my father had told me. That evening I showed up at Theatre 68 (directly next door to the Lankershim Arts Center) with Candace, the star of the production of Blackbird I had just closed, and Danice, a new actor friend of mine from the organization I'm a part of, Emerging Arts Leaders Los Angeles. This website is actually made possible by EAL/LA. Also, one of our main reason's for visiting NoHo's Theatre 68 is because Ronnie, who is also the company's artistic director, was kind enough to lend us the space for a staged reading we are remounting on the first day of November. To come see our free performance of Behind the Ides, RSVP here. I'm really looking forward to seeing this performance again with a new audience, in such a lovely space and you are more than welcome to join us!
"All I wanted to be was the hip Jew version of James Dean."
Anyway, after the performance had commenced, we stood outside the theatre and discussed for quite a bit. Hands down, we had all just witnessed a thoroughly entertaining and quite educational evening of theatre. Personally, I learned so much about Lenny Bruce's life, style and lifestyle that it made me more curious to learn more about him. He is an intriguing guy. Even if the very program is literally giving you the middle finger, you know from the start that you're about to hear a story of someone who tests the limits of so-called authority. Ronnie's portrayal of Lenny Bruce is entirely captivating, from his language, to his honest, up close and personal encounters with the audience to the very content he chooses to share with us. Usually I am not a fan of breaking the fourth wall, but with this real-life character, it would be foolish not to. Props to Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantegna for breaking down that barrier to the next level. I also appreciated the levels of storytelling used in the piece. We get the humor and the tragedy, the victories and the failures. His life was certainly not easy, but it was fun. Which I liked, because that kind of reminds me of my own life. A lot of blessings and really fun experiences combined with a ton defeat and discouragement. I get you Lenny. But through all the trials, we see how Lenny Bruce's struggle paved the way for freedom of speech in the comedy sector and beyond, and that's the real victory. That's his version of changing the world. And that encourages me to press forward in changing the face of the American theatre, even when it feels like I'm up against the world and things seem impossible.
The girls and I discussed how when you see a play based on a true event that you have no prior knowledge of, you are able to accept everything as truth. So I'm glad I went in knowing nothing, because the story became as real as it could be. What I especially liked about Ronnie's script is that if you are familiar with Lenny Bruce's comedy, it goes beyond just the comedy. A large component of this show is Lenny's connection to his family; his mother, wife and daughter. Even though we never see them on stage, Lenny's love for each of them is clear and their impact on his lifestyle and career shows what valuable, powerful women each of them were in their own respect. There is a lot of "language" in the show, so it's not exactly a family-friendly performance, but the language is necessary for this historical account to transpire. Because without the sacrifices, struggles and words of Lenny Bruce, we wouldn't be hearing half of the silly, naughty, boundary-pushing, provocative things in comedy that make us laugh today.
I'm Not A Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce runs at Theatre 68 has been extended yet again through the month of November. If I were you, I'd try to fit this one in before it potentially takes off for NYC!