By Michael Dritto
Playing at: The Royal George Cabaret Theatre (1641 N. Halsted) Extended performance schedule runs through Feb. 16. LennyBruceOnStage.com
Basic storyline: Lenny Bruce was found dead in 1966, sitting naked on a toilet with a needle in his arm. This is the opening image where we are introduced to Lenny Bruce (played by Ronnie Marmo). Over a period of 90 relentless minutes, we watch as we follow him recount the defining moments of his comedy career; the triumphs and the failures in his role as a husband and father; and his lengthy, uphill battle with the government to keep control of the thing he holds most precious — his words.
What stood out: Anytime you go to see a one-man show, it falls on the actor to carry you through the performance. I feel silly even saying Marmo did a successful job at that. Marmo truly transforms in front of your eyes into Lenny Bruce, and it feels as if we are simply watching Bruce talk to us on stage for an hour and a half. Over the course of the play, Marmo’s performance masterfully skates between whimsically obscene and tragically tormented as we watch Bruce slowly fall into a darker and darker spiral that eventually leads us back to the heartbreaking tableau of him naked on the toilet.
I suppose that when you have reached your 270th show — and have written that show, and have had the assistance of acclaimed actor/director Joe Mantegna to guide the flow of the performance — that a play like this will no doubt be firing on all cylinders. Of course, it also a true testament to Marmo’s talent that he was he able to deliver a performance that felt freshly volatile and vulnerable after having a root canal earlier in the day. If the show felt phenomenal after that, I am sure that it can only be better on a night when he is at 100 percent.
Not only is the show entertaining and engaging, it is such a strong performance that Lenny Bruce’s own daughter, Kitty, was quoted as saying, “It was the best portrayal of my father that I have ever seen. Brilliant.” Marmo and Kitty have even now agreed to work together to bring a portion of the proceeds from the show to the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, which provides funds for those who don’t have the insurance or the ability to get treatment for their own drug and alcohol addictions.
Final thoughts: After only having known of Lenny Bruce from what I thought was a fictional side character from Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I was delighted and captivated to witness the fully fleshed-out story of the man himself.