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Lenny & Lou
by Rich See
It's murder, madness, and mayhem in Woolly Mammoth's new season kickoff, the quirky dark comedy Lenny & Lou. The laughs begin as soon as the first scene starts and never let up until the bittersweet end of this extreme look into family dysfunction.
Playwright Ian Cohen has taken a "what if?" approach to the whole thing: What if your mother had Alzheimer's? And what if she favored your older brother all your life? And what if you were late for work and a purple pillow was sitting by her head as she screamed and carried on about bananas and being left alone? It's a humorous look at a very serious subject: elder abuse.
The story is a send-up of a current familiar reality. Dad is passed away, Mom is slowly slipping away, and sibling rivalry is consistently rearing its ugly head. Responsible brother Lou, the family doormat, agrees to fix the uproar that self-absorbed, do-nothing brother Lenny has created. While doing this he has a momentary lapse into insanity -- one he doesn't regret -- and this takes the group on a trip down memory lane that brings about a few epiphanies for almost everyone concerned.
Director Tom Prewitt has culled a veteran cast to develop a highly timed and precise comedy. Pulling out all the stops, he has everyone going for the absolute last laugh. From the hilarious sex scene between Howard Shalwitz and Jennifer Mendenhall to Nancy Robinette's naughty rendition of "You Made Me Love You" to Michael Russotto's frenzied drill demonstration for Erika Rose's horrified visiting nurse. The cast looks like they are having fun and the audience is responding in kind.
Anne Gibson's set is a wonderfully fluid, industrial-style piece that alternates between three apartments while also showcasing the New York City subway system. Adam Magazine's lighting design adds to the underground feel of the set with lighting seemingly coming through window transoms. And Michael Kraskin's sound design has a few humorous aspects to it.
Howard Shalwitz shines as Lenny Feinstein. He comes across as a selfish, mousy coward still dreaming of being Momma's boy -- including wearing her clothes. Michael Russotto is wonderful as uptight and walking wounded brother Lou. As his character slowly lets go of his acquiescence -- which corresponds to his letting go of his clothes -- he changes from doormat to confidence before our eyes. Nancy Robinette is a delight as Fran Feinstein, a woman who is alternately in and out of reality. But you get the sense that even when Fran was consistently "in" reality, she wasn't too grounded in sanity. Julie Mendenhall presents another oddball character in the form of Julie Riggio, Lenny's girlfriend and, up to this point, bankroll. Julie has a few chips on her shoulder and one of them is that she wasn't allowed to join her brothers in the family business of being hired killers. And as the play's sanest character and voice of reason -- visiting nurse Sabrina DeChamp -- Erika Rose takes a small part and runs full steam with it -- literally around and around the stage.
As the opening for Woolly's 25th anniversary, Lenny & Lou is a great starting point to what promises to be a terrific theatre season. It is a black comedy so it might not be for everyone. But if you enjoy the inanity of family eccentricities, you'll have a great time.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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