Theater

Review: I’m Not a Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce

Joe Mantegna and Ronnie Marmo in Rehearsal
Joe Mantegna and Ronnie Marmo in Rehearsal

It’s rare to discover an actor so passionate about a contemporary that he writes and stars in his own play, but that’s exactly what the very talented New York actor Ronnie Marmo did.

“I’m Not a Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce” is currently in Chicago, premiering at the Royal George Theatre after successful runs in Los Angeles and New York. Directed by Joe Mantegna, probably best known to audiences for his role in TV’s “Criminal Minds” and his award winning Glengarry, Glen Ross performances, it’s a homage to that outrageous, legendary social satirist and comedian Lenny Bruce.

In this solo performance, Ronnie Marmo is rewardingly and breathtakingly brilliant as Lenny Bruce. He’s totally believable and of course it doesn’t hurt that Marmo physically resembles Bruce.

In a small cabaret like setting, with a very functional and minimalist set, (thanks to designer Matt Richter, sometimes less is more), Marmo strides, paces, and falls. Marmo has also incorporated an easy and welcomed audience interaction as he fluently unfolds the various important scenes of Bruce’s life, taking us from his first onstage appearance in 1947 filling in for an incapacitated MC, through several snippets of club and bar performances that lead to his arrests and eventual Riker imprisonment.

But Marmo also focuses on the three loves of Bruce’s life: his mother, Sally Marr, his wife Honey, and his daughter Kitty. And he does it all with power, tautness, humor, and deep vulnerability.

The beginning and ending scenes are especially poignant, if not thought provoking. Marmo’s Bruce begins and ends on a toilet seat; the ending registers with the projection of comedians’ names that Bruce paved the way for: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lisa Lampanelli, Chris Rock, and Robin Williams to mention just a few.

In 2003, 37 years after his death, Bruce’s wife was instrumental in obtaining a pardon for Bruce’s obscenity charges. Governor George Pataki stated the posthumous pardon was “a declaration of New York’s commitment to upholding the First Amendment”. What’s ironic is that our culture has evolved so much that Bruce’s 1960’s monologues contain words that you can readily hear on any HBO, Netflix, Comedy Central production and we wouldn’t even think twice. Bruce covered it all: religion, racism, immigration, Capital punishment, police brutality, and gender inequality.

Bruce’s daughter, Kitty has fully sanctioned “I’m Not a Comedian....I’m Lenny Bruce” . I came away from this well-paced and captivating production thinking about the freedom of speech and the power of words and suppression. And I can only thank

Ronnie Marmo for bringing Bruce’s story to light and his voice heard again. Bravo!

• Regina Belt-Daniels is currently appearing in Independent Players production of THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. She hopes to always continue to do what she loves best: act, direct, travel with her husband, teach, write theater reviews, and serve enthusiastically on theater boards throughout Northern Illinois.

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