At one point in his dead-on portrayal of standup comic Lenny Bruce, Jason Fischer offers a perfectly paced re-creation of Bruce’s famous racial census-taking of his audience, gushing forth a kaleidoscope of ethnic slurs. Rendering the epithets ludicrous by the sheer weight of repetition, Fischer underscores Bruce’s conclusion that it is the suppression of words that give them the power to hurt. Meticulously scripted and helmed by Joan Worth and Alan Sacks, “Lenny Bruce … In His Own Words” is an engrossing glimpse into the psyche of a flawed genius.
Pacing nervously about the small stage, Fischer impressively inhabits Bruce’s relentless attitude of Jewish working class incredulity at the inequities of life. He seamlessly incorporates material from the full spectrum of Bruce’s performance history, ranging from his hilarious 1950s “Religions, Inc,” routine, made popular at the now-defunct Sunset Strip Crescendo nightclub, through his career-ending onstage fixation with the myriad legal problems he faced after his arrest for obscenity following his 1961 performance at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop.
Fischer’s re-creation takes on a wide range of Bruce’s uncompromising, jaundiced riffs on religion, government, jingoism, capitalism, war, sexual mores and obscenity. He is particularly effective at demonstrating the comic’s unscripted improvisational interplay with an audience. This includes Bruce’s mild embarrassment at having to stop this casual interaction to perform a practiced routine, preceded by a self-deprecating shrug, “O.K., here’s a bit.”
When he segues into Bruce’s often manic onstage diatribes on “the real reason I got busted,” during the latter days of his career, Fischer is much more emotionally controlled than the often incoherent Bruce. He carefully details the criminal justice system’s fixation on Bruce’s use of dirty words, his supposed anti-Catholicism and his generally anti-American sarcasm about such political icons as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
The M Bar, with its casual imbibing atmosphere of nonstop table orders, rapid bartender activity and general din of tinkling glasses, is a perfect environment for the play.