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When Woolly Mammoth issues the caveat “For Mature Audiences, ” they’re not kidding. Ian Cohen’s shockingly outlandish comedy Lenny & Lou is about as “adult ” as it gets without resorting to neon pole-dancing and a surprise appearance from the fuzz. Aside from those minor omissions, there is plenty of raunchy, bawdy, jaw-dropping, eye-popping sex, casual inferences to incest and other moral depravities, and sober senility to offend even the most offensive offenders.
In other words, a good time is had by all.
After last season’s kooky, hypersexual Cooking with Elvis, Tom Prewitt is back in the director’s chair again, orchestrating outrageous carnal encounters and more twisted, perverse chaos inside the madhouse world of Cohen’s imagination. Anyone brave enough to have witnessed the vivid, aesthetically-explicit rendezvous in Lee Hall’s Elvis can only imagine what sort of sordid and distorted tricks Prewitt can pull out of his staging bag.
With Prewitt cheering them on, Woolly goes all the way with Lenny & Lou, a deranged tale of two incorrigible brothers who may or may not have drawn the final breath from their aging mother. If Cohen’s comedy elevates the dysfunctional family to a whole new level, then he has catapulted the term “Momma’s boy ” beyond the stratosphere.
In his opening scene, Cohen immediately establishes who these crazy, pathetic men are after a raucous late-night bananas delivery to Mom’s Brooklyn abode (“I haven’t moved my bowels! ” she yaks). Safe back in Forest Hills, Queens, the siblings argue and bicker over who is best capable of caring for their single living parent. The conversation grows from familiar and laughable to hysterical to downright incredulous as we discover each brother’s out of control neuroses. Lenny (Howard Shalwitz) eventually convinces brother Lou (Michael Russotto) to go back and check on their mother, Fran, to be sure she didn’t suffer a heart attack after the harrowing ordeal. From here the family fabulous, including Lenny’s oversexed and underpaid tart of a wife Julie, spins itself into the sickest, most head-shaking comedy of errors since the Bush Administration.
While the Feinstein brothers struggle to keep a hired nurse away and fuss over who gets to claim all of Fran’s loot, supposedly stashed away in an old cigar box, family secrets surface and Cohen boxes his story into a corner by creating desperate circumstances for desperate people. During intermission the audience has an idea of where the story could go, of how it could possibly develop: It’s either going to get really, really serious, or really, really absurd.
Naturally it’s the latter.
Cohen’s second act degenerates into a downward spiral of more and more lunatic territory while Prewitt’s daring cast takes risk after risk with their fierce comic choices and voracious appetites for realism. And no one tackles more of this risky business than Shalwitz, Woolly’s own Artistic Director.
Shalwitz, who portrays the cross-dressing, nail-painting sex addict Lenny, spends most of his time onstage outfitted in a bright red frock of a dress, fantasizing about becoming a rock ‘n roll star while fending off his horny, undersexed mother. Both he and Russotto create an electric rivalry that practically explodes off the stage.
Jennifer Mendenhall’s brash, crash, cursing Julie provides the sparks. The reliably spunky Jennifer Mendenall plays the brash, crass, cursing Julie with palpable rigor. Erika Rose shines in the small role of Sabrina, a wise “black chick ” nurse who looks after Mrs. Feinstein.
But it is Nancy Robinette as the banana-biting, tantrum-throwing matron longing for the Hollywood stage who really runs this show. Robinette is a riot as the senior who has trouble recalling her sons’ names, but can rattle off the lyrics of dated showtunes.
Woolly’s usually-high technical standards are met with a multi-functional living room set designed by Anne Gibson. Her Brooklyn brownstone interior is creatively lit by Adam Magazine, whose intricate New York subway map is reflected in bright tape upstage.
Upon Lenny & Lou‘s foundation of absurdity, Cohen constructs a rare, revealing glimpse into the apathy of a country determined to lock up its elders in nursing homes. While it certainly provides a lightweight punching bag and lots of low-brow humor, Lenny & Lou delivers one final knock-out blow, targeting all those ungrateful progeny willing to throw away the key.