Ronnie Marmo stars in "I Am Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce" at The Cutting Room
(Doren Sorell Photography)
I requested press tickets to this show because I wanted to see Lenny Bruce through the prism of the recent second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. There’s not a woman who binge-watched that show who shouldn’t rush out and get tickets to this play in the next two months if she’s in New York City (especially since the venue is set up like a nightclub, and this adds another level of meta to this already layered homage).
I was lucky enough to grow up in NYC, and I believe my parents even saw Lenny Bruce perform. I saw the Dustin Hoffman biopic, so I thought I knew enough about Lenny Bruce. I also thought the portrayal of Bruce in Mrs. Maisel was so strong and spot on, that I didn’t really need to know too much more. I expected this show to amplify my Maisel experience. I did not expect it to make me want to delve deeper into Lenny Bruce.
Let me tell you why.
All the reviews I had read about this show were written by men. Anyone I have ever heard talk about what a legend Lenny Bruce is has been male. Was there a female perspective to this play that connected it to Mrs. Maisel? Was Lenny Bruce really the appropriate guardian angel for the character of Midge Maisel or was this just poetic license or suspension of disbelief?
The play, brilliantly written and performed by Ronnie Marmo, opens jarringly with a naked Lenny Bruce on the toilet who informs the audience that this is how and where he died of a morphine overdose in August of 1966. It’s a far cry from the lush retro 1950’s of Mrs. Maisel. This is not funny.
(Doren Sorell Photography)
The play, which is a series of inter-connected stand up pieces, then builds through the life of Lenny Bruce to show the audience how and why he got there. In a blistering performance, Marmo powers through the stories of being an only child with a single mother, Bruce’s early performances, meeting his wife Honey Harlow, who was a stripper, having a daughter who they named Kitty, divorcing and evolving from a comedian to a man who used words to fight the social justice battles that we are still taking on today—just look at the recent reaction to Congresswoman Rhasida Tlaib’s use of a choice expletive—and the price he, and everyone in his life, paid.
The play makes is very clear that Lenny Bruce was very much of his time, and yet ahead of his time, which I believe is the appeal of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as well—it’s set in the restrictive 1950’s and yet on the cusp of the times that-are-a-changing.
It made me wonder what Lenny Bruce would have to say about America today.
And that made me want to read his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty & Influence People, as well as to listen to at least some of the 30 albums of his routines.
A lot of my tweeps ask, what should I binge after The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? The answer is Lenny Bruce.
This play is so well done that there is really no convenient place for me to insert the fact that it is directed by the actor Joe Mantegna. Between Mantegna and Marmo, this is a stellar theatrical experience.
The show runs though February at The Cutting Room, 44 E. 32nd St. Kitty Bruce worked with the playwright in bringing this show to life, and proceeds from the merchandise sold during the show go to The Lenny Bruce Foundation, which helps to fund scholarships for rehabilitation and education.
RDN meets Ronnie Marmo