As the Baby Boom generation ponders appropriate care for its elderly parents, playwright Ian Cohen explains what not to do in “Lenny & Lou,” a new comedy that stretches — or should we say obliterates — the boundaries of tasteful parental treatment. Lesson one: Do not strangle your mother with a pillow or cross-dress in one of her gowns.
Cohen’s wildly irreverent and marginally funny take on one dysfunctional family is billed as the perfect vehicle to launch the 25th-anniversary season for the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, an organization dedicated to a special blend of fearless theater. It’s a milestone that also will see an end to Woolly’s search for a permanent residence when it moves into its new downtown facility next spring.
Howard Shalwitz, Woolly’s artistic director, has a penchant for plays that push the envelope of familial eccentricity. In this one, he takes the juiciest role as Lenny Feinstein, a struggling musician and one of two neurotic sons of a senile shrew (Nancy Robinette). Others in the cast are Michael Russotto as the hapless brother, Jennifer Mendenhall as Lenny’s preposterously oversexed wife and Erika Rose as the solidly grounded maid.
The frenetic, low-brow play gleefully skewers any social norm that crosses its path. Its slim plot focuses on sexual obsession and other deviant behavior, as well as an unabashedly cruel view of dementia, packaged in a blizzard of profanity.
The fireworks are set by the insufferably annoying mother, who would provoke any offspring to lose their inhibitions. Befitting the material, director Tom Prewitt gives the main characters free rein, especially Shalwitz as the short-tempered, cross-dressing ne’er-do-well.
While the play’s twisted antics are defiantly outside the mainstream, topped by a lively scene of sexual gymnastics, it ultimately drowns in a sea of excess long before Cohen calls the lunacy to a halt. His dialogue only occasionally offers insight into the perversions.