Ronnie Marmo channels the stand-up philosopher – people’s world

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Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce.

LOS ANGELES – In what is the most ironic twist I’ve come across in my reviewing mishaps, the one-man bioplay on the iconoclastic comic book whose routines (in) notoriously included a track called “Religion Incorporated” is in the works. fact presented inside a The Church of LA. Ronnie Marmo plays the title role in I’m not a comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce, which is actually staged in the intimate theater located in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, where the Loft Ensemble theater company is based in the NoHo Arts District.

Marmo also wrote this guest production of Theater 68 at the Loft Ensemble, directed by actor Joe Mantegna, whose stage and screen credits include David Mamet. Glengarry Glen Ross (for which Mantegna won the Tony Award), CBS ‘ Criminal minds series, and The Godfather III.

The fact that a production on First Amendment icon Lenny Bruce is emerging is tempting to think in terms of an American Zeitgeist. Freedom of speech, an essential part of democracy, is making a lot of headlines these days, from college campuses to school board meetings censoring “critical race theory” to a losing lunatic ex-prez who spoke out against the free press as “fake news” and “enemies of the people” and attempted to suppress the publication of books by John Bolton, Mary Trump and others. (See Lenny on media disinformation.)

Do those who espouse “hate speech”, Q-Anon, anti-masking, anti-vaccination, ad nauseam, have constitutional guarantees to express their screeds and rants, no matter how bad their worldview? can be doubtful? Should Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. be open to all perspectives (and invectives) and held accountable for the delusions and delusions they allow by providing them with platforms to howl and lie? Do we have to transport TikTok before the dock?

As a stand-up comic with a philosophical orientation, Lenny was a social media forerunner in the cause of free speech. During the 1950s and 1960s he was (un) famous for being ‘fatigued’, for using verboten language on stage, which literally got him arrested and forced him to face hardships. grueling court cases that put his soul to the test and presumably prompted him to seek cessation, release and relief from narcotics.

Most importantly, Lenny used his comedic perch to speak out on topical issues, such as integration and religion, in his caustic crusade to broaden the horizons of public discourse in an America emerging from the straitjacket. Hollywood blacklist and McCarthyism. (It should be noted that Mantegna portrayed another First Amendment pioneer, Dalton Trumbo, in Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted, a play written in 2003 by the screenwriter’s son, Chris Trumbo, which was staged on Broadway and Los Angeles)

In the settings of a one-man show and on a spare set, I’m not an actor … admirably succeeds in dramatizing Lenny’s life and career, his rise and fall, the professional and personal sides of Bruce. We follow little Lenny from his childhood in Brooklyn, mostly raised by his solo mom, Sally Marr, who was in the show biz herself. Lenny embarks on his acting career, marries stripper Honey Harlow and they have a daughter named Kitty (who later moved with her mother to Hawaii).

With its expanding “obscenities” and social conscience, Lenny’s bizarre odyssey inevitably leads to confrontations with the authorities. The undercover cops take more notes than studio costumes during his nightclub performances, then arrest Bruce, as at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in 1964. These multiple arrests resulted in the aforementioned confrontations. of Bruce in the courtroom, as well as his ban on entering Britain. Lenny’s parallel descent into the chimerical palliative of drug addiction is also effectively dramatized, leading to his tragic death at just 40 (while on appeal after being sentenced to four months in the labor house!) from where Marmo reconstructs Lenny’s stay.

I was a Lenny Bruce admirer in the early 70s, read the autobiography How to speak rudely and influence people, saw Cliff Gorman on Broadway in his Tony Award-winning whirlwind Lenny then the adaptation on the big screen of Bob Fosse in 1974 Lenny with Dustin Hoffman. Marmo — a veteran actor who appeared with Joe Mantegna on a Criminal minds episode – is compelling as Bruce, capturing manners, the comic book’s most important and pattering model, and most importantly, Lenny’s tortured soul, lashing out at hypocrisy American and the restrictions on freedom of expression in the so-called “Land of the Free”. The writer / actor skillfully interweaves lines of actual Lenny pieces, like the artist accused of vulgarity citing offensive words, such as ‘segregation’.

On the Great White Way, LennyCliff Gorman’s set design hilariously crossed the stage on a gigantic condom! The most modest I’m not an actor … essentially has an onstage prop (which I won’t reveal to you) that sets the scene and is effectively and evocatively deployed through flashbacks to explain how Lenny’s life and talent was, let’s say, blown away. (Ironically, this one-act play is performed without a toilet break.) Marmo’s play will likely offend bluenoses and is not for children, as it includes generous doses of offbeat language, nudity, references to illegal drugs and a hair. uplifting and well-played vignette representing a sinister car accident.

Along with Lenny’s tragic drug addiction, he arguably had another major flaw that surpassed the performance of the beleaguered comic book as his First Amendment court cases consumed his life, even though his defense team included the famous lawyer. Martin Garbus. This fault is not only mentioned in the title of Marmo’s drama, but in his dialogue, when fans complain that Lenny is not funny. People paid for entertainment, but towards the end beset by his legal issues, his presumably drug-ravaged mind, and most importantly, obsessed with his pipe-dreaming crusade against America’s Puritan values ​​and stifling free speech. , Lenny seems to have lost his sense of humor (though not to say his keen appreciation for irony). Bruce tried to use nightclubs as a courtroom to judge his case, even as he struggled to turn the courtroom into a place to perform his deed, as Marmo poignantly reconstructs .

In the process, Lenny may have remained enlightening, but arguably was increasingly less entertaining (although Marmo was still both). Like Jon Stewart, Bruce has largely ceased to be funny, and for the laughing public, if you are “Not a comedian”, You should rename yourself, for example, a standing philosopher or be prepared to return their money to ticket buyers. For the record, Marmo’s play is indeed funny and mixes tragedy and comedy, just as Bruce’s life did.

What is Lenny’s legacy? As a martyr for free speech, he arguably broadened the boundaries of American public discourse. But if so, one could argue that it also includes the aggravation of daily life, with despicable politicians such as Trump lowering the level of blackout in the marketplace for very talkative ideas. Ads have fallen to levels unimaginable in Bruce’s day in terms of public bawling (and loud!) Paid subscriptions. What would Bruce have to say about this? And imagine the day on the ground when he would have a scum of the earth like Trump posing as hominids!

On the other hand, at his best, acting as a comedic catalyst, the free-thinker Lenny opened up America, to release its puritanism, bigotry and racism, to expand our horizons of free speech in our social discourse. . Nowhere is this more true than in the rarefied realm of comedy. Richard Pryor expressed the sentiment of many comics when he proclaimed, “Lenny changed my life.” Speaking of our Zeitgeist, it might not be a coincidence that this bioplay appeared at the same time that the collected works of sidekick Bruce Pryor were released as a complete DVD.

While it’s true that Lenny’s irreverence broke down the barriers of bad taste – in so doing, opening the floodgates to contemptible and mean tweets, screams from the Trumpsters and revolting TV commercials – I still prefer to live in an open society with less openness to censorship. Seen in this light, this one-act piece brings “grandeur” to the Loft Ensemble. As I’m not an actor … Proves it: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce continues to gossip and influence people.

Théâtre 68 presents I’m not a comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce at 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. until October 2, at the Loft Ensemble, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood 91602. On October 8 and 9, it will be performed at the Vogel at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ, tickets available here Where here.

It’s a short run, so freedom of speech enthusiasts and more adventurous theatergoers should put on their running shoes and run to NoHo – or Red Bank – to catch it. Hopefully production will find its way onto the film. Part of the profits will go to the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charity, which supports those without insurance or enough money to seek drug and alcohol treatment.


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Ed Rampell



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