The pre-show stage is set with toilet in corner. Shoes, boxers, bright white shirt, and pants are crumpled in piles. The lights go out and on again revealing naked Lenny Bruce (Ronnie Marmo) on the toilet. He tells us he is dead. For the next ninety minutes, he tells us how he got there.
Bruce recounts the milestones and headlines of his short life. We are there during his first accidental gig, as a substitute emcee for his mother’s nightclub act. Later we meet Honey, the stripper with whom he falls head over heels in love. We also get a glimpse of their daughter Kitty, whom we read in the program is a co-producer of this show. Though it’s a one-man show, Marmo’s pen and performance paints these women so vividly, we feel we like we know them. This is a Lenny who feels real.
We Forget We Are In The Royal George Theater
Most of the time, we are in the nightclub audience watching Bruce do his profanity-laced shtick. He cajoles us to fess up to sex acts we’ve performed. He makes sport with some of us in the front row. We may never have been to a night club before, but now can feel that we have. We forget we are in the Royal George Theater.
His act isn’t just spiced with words like F**K, C**KS****R, etc. Rather, that’s the main course. Time and time again, Bruce is dragged into court for public indecency and obscenity. He defiantly asks why these words are profane when words like “segregation” are actually far more obscene. And, time and again, Bruce’s bankrupting court appearances diminish him as a man. He turns to drugs. He becomes a word slurring addict whom we wince at watching.
In this one-man show, Marmo’s Bruce emerges from the pantheon of comedy greats to make his case for the 1st Amendment. We’re not just in the night club. We are in the court of public opinion. We learn from the program notes that Marmo chose to create this play because (to paraphrase) our tumultuous times need Lenny Bruce’s voice. Bruce believed that it’s people that give words power. Though his act had a stream of consciousness feel, he chose his words as weapons.
Playwright and actor Ronnie Marmo—who really does look like the James Dean we learn Bruce always longed to favor— has created a tour de force love letter to Bruce. We learn a lot too. If you too secretly dread the lags that often seem inevitable in a one-actor format, have no worries. Marmo, and his famed Director Joe Mantegna, have created a thoroughly engaging one-man show.
This is a top pick for lovers of comedy. It’s also a great conversation starter about the 1st Amendment, and the fight for our Constitution. W-T-F Lenny, you’re practically a founding father!
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Starring and Written by Ronnie Marmo
Directed by Joe Mantegna
Thru February 16, 2020
Royal George Cabaret Theatre
1641 N. Halsted