Lenny Bruce’s fire and fury light up Theatre 68 – Los Angeles Times

In case turning back the clock to the stability and prosperity of the early 1960s seems an enticing alternative to today’s sociopolitical turbulence, consider the fate of Lenny Bruce. The comic provocateur’s taboo-busting, profanity-loaded monologues led to his blacklisting, arrest and imprisonment — so much for freedom of speech in that supposedly enlightened era.

In the premiere of “I Am Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce” at Theatre 68, actor Ronnie Marmo and director Joe Mantegna cut through historical haze to invoke Bruce’s troubled, anarchic spirit and make a compelling case for his enduring relevance.

We first glimpse Marmo’s Bruce, haggard and broken, at the time of his squalid death from a drug overdose at the age 40, having tragically realized his lifelong ambition to be “the hip Jew version of James Dean.” Nevertheless, the self-destructive, compulsively truth-telling Bruce bristles with crusading fury — middle finger raised metaphorically (and often literally) against hypocrisy and censorship — as he launches into a meticulously researched retrospective of his life and career.

For the solo show’s narrative segments, Marmo draws extensively from Bruce’s recordings, published work and court transcripts, skillfully woven into a conversational monologue. The performance reflects the deep affinity for his subject that previously led to Marmo’s selection to narrate the audiobook version of Bruce’s serialized autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.”

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