One of the things to be most relished about the New York theatre scene is the group of actors who band together and put up a show just about anywhere -- and do it well. Such is the case with the Little Gem Production of The Last Days of Lenny Bruce. Give a couple of AMDA grads free range in a central New York location and they will give you back the world and ... Lenny Bruce.
Most people are not aware of the groundbreaking work of "sick comic" Lenny Bruce, who spent much of his career fighting authorities for the right to perform. History tells that he was the first standup comic to use profanity onstage as part of his act, and that he strove to defuse the violence of bigoted language by constant repetition. This spiel landed the rebel in jail on numerous occasions in the '60s.
Playwright Jonathan A. Goldberg has successfully taken plenty of researched information and created an entertaining evening of revealing and very funny anecdotes of the performer's life and career. Although the piece could be cut immensely, the core is superb.
Under the steady direction of Mark A. Klimko, Ron Palais ambitiously took on the title role and was charming and sexy. He immediately broke the fourth wall and searched the audience for a list of minorities and called out to them by their most offensive names. The majority of the play is done as a standup act, as he pours out his heart about what happened during the highlights of his career.
Nicole Bischoff played the legendary Sally Marr, mother of the famed comic. Although her first-act performance was less convincing, her second act was absolutely breathtaking. Her scenes with Palais in the second act were emotionally rousing.
John Magin, who was merely "featured" in the program, played dozens of characters that were each phenomenal. His portrayal of each U.S. president was priceless, while Brian Dusseau was amusing as Bruce's agent.
Edgar Fox was sensitive and solid in all his roles, particularly as a student from UCLA who comes to New York to pay homage to his childhood hero.
Where Act One was played entirely on a small stage built for a standup comedy routine, the second act was played in the New York apartment of the broken Bruce. Set design (not noted in the program) was simple but effective, and the sound design, by Anthony Sage and Andrew Blasenak, added musical interludes that bridged scenes effortlessly. Bischoff did excellent costume designs. Klimko deftly designed the lighting.
Show-business lore often notes Lenny Bruce as the father of modern standup. This piece tells the story of how and why he came to earn his reputation, and how the conservative society of the times prevented him from doing what he did best. Fans of the unpredictable Chris Rock might find this Lenny Bruce extraordinary.
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Copyright 2002 Jade Esteban Estrada