Lenny Bruce is returning to town. While staying mostly in the city on previous visits, this time he will be in Skokie.
Despite being dead for nearly 60 years, the controversial and influential comic will feature the immensely talented actor Ronnie Marmo, who wrote and starred in the play “I’m Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce.” presenting at the fair North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.
“I love Chicago,” said Marmo from his home in Los Angeles. “The audience is smart and demanding, and that energizes me every time I step onto the stage.”
Our viewers learned a lot about it because since the show’s birth six years ago, it has been closely tied to series director Joe Mantegna.
You’ve definitely heard mantegnaCicero’s child and Chicago theater legend became a star in film and television before making his way to Broadway (he won a Tony Award in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”).
And you may have heard of this show, maybe even seen it, because it gave two successful performances here, the first in 2014. Royal George Theater The pandemic ended in March 2020. He came back in October 2021 and settled in the Venus Cabaret at the Mercury Theater for a few months.
My Colleague Chris Jones wrote about the first run“Even the most devoted Bruce fan will be impressed with Marmo. … (His) great achievement is his ability to replicate not only Bruce’s fundamental vulnerability, the sweet neediness that drives him to constantly seek relief, but also the enraged mind that is doomed to lament forever for his lack of intellectual honesty in America.”
Bruce’s daughter, Kitty, described the show as “the best portrayal of my father I’ve ever seen”; Among them was Dustin Hoffman, the Academy Award nominee for the 1974 movie “Lenny.”
For the past year or so, Marmo has been touring the show nationwide, performing briefly in cities such as Toronto, Tampa, West Palm Beach, and Pittsburgh. The crowd was much larger than the 90 seats it could fill in the Royal George (permanently closed) and Venus Cabaret (still open). He doesn’t have to worry about playing in the 867 seats of the North Shore Center.
“There will always be an intimacy on this show,” she says. “We weren’t sure when we started playing in the bigger venues, but we played up to 1,600 seats in Pittsburgh and it worked extremely well.”
He says he and Mantegna were always busy with the show. “There is a huge amount of material and we live in an ever-changing world, especially over the past few years. I know what we need is comedy. If we can’t laugh, our other options are to stay neutral or cry. As Lenny once said, ‘The only honest art form is laughter and comedy.’”
The show is spiced up with considerable humor but also a bit of tragedy. Much of Bruce’s humor remains serious and thought-provoking even after all these years.
One of Bruce’s most famous routines has come to an end. This was his approach to a racial slur; a verbal riff that aims to deprive this word of its painful power. When black comedian Dick Gregory first heard of Bruce’s routine in 1962, he was reported to have said, “This man is the eighth wonder of the world.”
Gregory’s son, Christian Gregory, saw Marmo’s show and routine and thought it was appropriate, but times are changing. “I can’t be deaf to the world we live in,” says Marmo. “And it just didn’t seem fair for a two-minute routine to give people a distorted perspective on what Lenny really is.”
Marmo told me there are new routines in the show. He says he’s played the show 424 times and keeps counting, but “This is 90 minutes by myself, it’s a monstrous game. But every time I go on that stage, I feel an energy coming from the audience. “
He told me the next stops of the show would be Houston and San Diego. He told me he was talking to theaters in London.
He then tells me about another change in his life.
It has its roots in Chicago. Janelle Gaeta was here on business from New York when her dinner plans with a friend fell through. She searched the internet for something to do. He found a listing for “I’m Not a Comedian…” and read positive reviews. He took a taxi to the Royal George, bought the last ticket, sat in the front row and loved the show.
Afterwards, Marmo chatted with the audience in the theater lobby and took pictures as usual. “It was November 8, 2019, and the first time I saw him,” she says. “I thought, ‘Oh man, here goes the next thirty years of my life.”
He was shot as well. They were dating from long distances, himself in Los Angeles and himself in New Jersey, often spending hours talking for hours. He flew to Los Angeles. They spent time together and got married in July 2022.
This was, in a way, another directorial effort by Mantegna.
“She got her rank to be able to run our wedding,” says Marmo.
His wife will come to Skokie. He watched the series dozens of times and said, “And I never get tired of watching it.”
14:00 and 20:00 September 9, North Shore Performing Arts Center, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; tickets cost $34-70 from 847-673-6300 and www.northshorecenter.org