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A CurtainUp Review
Lenny & Lou

Lemme tell ya what happens when ya die--nothin. You're dead. And that's it. You're like this fuckin table. . .you're just gone. It's like before you were born, except it's after you're dead ---Lou
That scares me. --- Lenny
Nothin to be scared of --- Lou
Why not?
Cause you're nothin.
-- Lou
I'm not nothin. Never will be nothing. Maybe bein nothin is okay with you, but it ain't okay with me.---Lenny

David Mogentale & Heidi James in Lenny & Lou
David Mogentale & Heidi James in Lenny & Lou
(Photo: Robert Adam Mayer)
Since last I visited the 29th Street Rep, an upscale looking building has risen next door to the theater. With the play I was about to see tagged as the company's first comedy, could these devotees of true grit, like their neighborhood, be headed for a more gentrified style of theater?

Not to worry. The company's reputation for plays peppered with x-rated language and peopled with characters who tend to live on the unsunny side of the street, whether in the inner city or the heartland, is safe. Lenny & Lou is indeed comic -- but it's a comedy that's dark as coal and dismally tragic.

Artistic director and creator of many an unforgettably brutal portrait, David Mogentale, doesn't have as much to work with here as some of his past roles though his self-absorbed, Lenny Feinstein stirs memories of the real rock star he so memorably played six years ago in Bobby Supreme (see link below). Lenny's rock star ambitions are the obvious pipe dream of a totally self-deluded loser who, though pushing forty, relies on his younger brother Lou (Todd Wall) to bail him out of financial scrapes and be there for their mother Fran (Suzanne Toren) who has Alzheimer's. While Lou is the more responsible of the two brothers, none of playwright Ian Cohen's characters, except Fran's Haitian caretaker/housekeeper Sabrina (Carolyn Michelle Smith), would get high grades on a mental health or good common sense test.

Long before Alzheimer's caused Fran Feinstein to float in and out of reality and require a caretaker, her maternal ministrations made Lou painfully uptight and ripe for having an aborted romance turn him into one of the many walking wounded scurrying from boring jobs to lonely apartments. Fran's own dreams of Hollywood glamour obviously rubbed off on Lenny, and their unwholesome relationship left a mark that leads to some of the play's more bizarre comic developments.

Without giving away too much of Mr. Cohen's plot, the Feinstein saga begins with Lenny's frantic early morning visit to his brother's Forest Hills apartment. Instead of relying on Lou to take care of their mother's frequent demands for attention as is his wont, he heeded her latest middle-of-the-night request for bananas but forgot to bring his key to her apartment with the result that he now thinks that he may have scared her to death. Death does indeed figure in further developments but what turns this into a potential keystone killer crime drama is not triggered by the obvious loose cannon, Lenny, but by Lou, the long-suffering nebbish.

Director Sturgis Warner, whose staging of Fuente at Barrington Stage I admired (see link below), somehow fails to prevent the evening from ultimately feeling more like a drawn out joke than a really ferocious tragi-comedy. Still, there are plenty of chuckles to be had from some of the more insane riffs: a hilarious sex scene between Lenny and his wife Julie, whose love-hate relationship with her hired killer brothers matches the Feinstein family's dysfunction . . .Lou's big blow-up and attempt to deal with the unwanted arrival of the opinionate Sabrina. . .the muscular Lenny's rummaging through his mother's belongings and donning a little black dress she wore in her younger days . . .and mom's ditzy rendition of her favorite song, "You Made Me Love You."

While Warner hasn't encouraged deeply nuanced acting, the ensemble does manage to bring their pathetic characters to life. Mogentale has the showiest role. He is well matched with Heidi James as his tough, sexually avaricious wife. Todd Wall captures the driven to the edge frustration of Lou, and Susanne Toren makes it quite clear that Fran wasn't too tightly wrapped long before Alzheimer's tore away at any pretense at normalcy. Carolyn Michelle Smith takes her minor part to its fairly standard issue limits.

Ryan Scott's set is a little too bland and lacking in detail but then maybe that's the idea -- to show that dysfunction is the decorative motif dominating all three Feinstein apartments. The wittiest illustrative touch is provided by Isabel Rubio's costumes for Mogentale and James. Like past 29th Street Rep plays, the total abandonment of socially acceptable behavior and language calls for a "not for everyone" caveat -- a caveat cheerfully ignored by their many loyal fans.

Bobby Supreme
Our review of Lenny & Lou in DC
Playwright: Ian Cohen
Directed by Sturgis Warner
Cast: Heidi James (Julie Riggio), David Mogentale (Lenny Feinstein), Carolyn Michelle Smith (Sabrina DuChamp) Suzanne Toren(Fran Feinstein), Todd Wall (Lou Feinstein)
Set Design: Ryan Scott
Costume Design: Isabel Rubio
Lighting Design: Charles Foster
Sound Design: David Margolin Lawson
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission
29th Street Rep, 212 West 29th Street, 2nd Floor (7th/8th Aves)SmartTix 212-868-4444
From 1/26/06 to 2/26/06; opening 2/02/06
$19, TDF vouchers accepted -- Thursdays are Pay What You Can Nights.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 30th press performance
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