Lenny Bruce Is Back
By Joseph Schneider on May 19th, 2010
When I was at UCLA, it was fashionable to bemoan the shortcomings of the local theater scene. With the carefully cultivated sage weariness of acting students, we’d compare the quality and range of local productions to those in other great cities, dismissing Los Angeles with sad little sighs and shakes of the head. I am reminded of how wrong we were whenever I do see great theater in this city, most recently in Theater 68’s superlative production of Lenny Bruce Is Back (And Boy Is He Pissed).
Seamlessly directed by Emmy Award winner Bob Guza, Lenny Bruce Is Back features actor Ronnie Marmo in a virtuoso performance as the titular comedian and civil rights advocate. At his own gravesite, Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) gives us one last show, a posthumous commentary on the tragicomedy of his own life. Culled from numerous interviews conducted by playwrights Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein, candid details of the tortured artist’s career emerge in a series of short acts, broken by dreamy saxophone riffs from soloist Carl Randall and Matt Richter’s exquisite lighting transitions.
Marmo’s Bruce is pitch-perfect, transcending mere impersonation and reaching that rare and delicate ownership so sought after by actors. He rants, expostulates, philosophizes, confides, confesses, and we cannot help but be totally, profoundly moved. This bittersweet, at times hilarious play reminds us how crucial Lenny Bruce was to the shaping of our cultural evolution while cautioning us against the traps of hypocrisy.
Through Ronnie Marmo, Lenny Bruce tells the audience “…I stood my ground. I still stand it today… maybe a little deeper.” Perhaps Lenny is gone, but his spirit lives on at Theater 68. And with more productions like this one, we can rest assured that theater in Los Angeles is doing just fine.