Forty years after the fact, Lenny Bruce remains a poster-boy for First Amendment rights, a comic repeatedly arrested on obscenity charges because he said things the establishment didn’t want to hear. Consequently, the crowd at the Zipper Theater is very serious during the new Off-Broadway production of LENNY BRUCE... IN HIS OWN WORDS. The bit about the N-word, that’s met with an understandable lull and an “Oh, Jeeze,” from the guy behind me, but even the Dracula shtick gets more thoughtful silence than laughs.
Clocking in at an hour and ten minutes, the show is well-crafted by Joan Worth and Alan Sacks and adroitly performed by Jason Fisher, who seems at home in Bruce’s skin. One wants to travel with him into dangerous territory, but what appalled in 1960 now plays in prime time on HBO, and more often than not one has to imagine the shock that these jokes were calculated to create.
It’s weird to lift Bruce’s material out of a nightclub and brand it capital-A Art, and the end result is nostalgia for a time when a 10-letter word starting with C and ending in R was cause for a small societal revolution. Still, LENNY BRUCE is awfully enjoyable, and the only thing that keeps it from being extraordinary is the crowd in the Zipper Theater, jaded past the point of offense, looking to Bruce’s ghost for a lesson instead of a laugh.
LENNY BRUCE… IN HIS OWN WORDS. Playing through Feb. 25 at the Zipper Theater, 336 West 37th Street. (212) 239-6200.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.