- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

The deranged family values of the Feinstein family would stymie even Dr. Phil. The Oprah-sanctioned TV shrink might throw in the towel if confronted with the sicko, hilarious antics of kinky Jewish mother Fran (Nancy Robinette) — her senior moments are mostly XXX-rated — and her two sons Lenny (Howard Shalwitz) and Lou (Michael Russotto) in Ian Cohen’s shocking epic, “Lenny & Lou.”

Woolly Mammoth has been known for pushing the envelope in such productions as “Cooking with Elvis” and “Christmas on Mars.” With “Lenny & Lou” they push that envelope to scatological and sexually deviant new extremes.

From graphic depictions of sex acts and partial nudity to salty language and comments so inappropriate that John Waters might blanch, “Lenny & Lou” is an orgy of bad behavior.

Yet, for all the smut and outrage, “Lenny & Lou” is at its heart a radical reaction to dealing with an aging parent. Fran’s mind is failing, and although she can remember show tunes from the ‘30s and ‘40s, she keeps forgetting she has two middle-aged sons.

Lou, an accountant who has never taken a sick day, is the responsible one, while Lenny lives the debauched life of a rock ‘n’ roller, only without the talent.

The tables turn when Lou snaps and Lenny must step up to the plate for the first time in his life. Given that Lenny is the product of a smothering, sexpot mother (her pet name for her son is “Lover”) and an absentee father, you can just imagine how unprepared he is for a crisis. As his brother says, “You’re not bad, just stupid.”

What keeps you from feeling slimy is Tom Prewitt’s tight direction and expertly abandoned performances by Miss Robinette, Mr. Shalwitz, Mr. Russotto, and Jennifer Mendenhall as Lenny’s lewdly hormonal, Mafia princess wife, Julie.

The entire company also has a sure hand with the combative, “dees, dems, and does” rhythm of Mr. Cohen’s snappy Brooklyn patter. Mr. Prewitt unleashes the play’s comedy in all its puerile glory without letting things spin out of control.

Mr. Shalwitz is the artistic director of Woolly Mammoth, and you’d be hard-pressed to think of Arena’s Molly Smith or Michael Kahn from the Shakespeare Theatre appearing in a role that requires cross-dressing (he looks pretty good in a bright red frock), sexual acrobatics that would be the envy of Cirque du Soleil, singing badly and delivering reams of potty-mouth dialogue.

Mr. Shalwitz dives into the role’s muck with glee, even eliciting a touch of sympathy for Lenny, an aspiring musician who has prolonged adolescence way past the point of decency.

Fran is someone who blithely flashes her episiotomy scars and shares with her children porn star-like memories of her husband. Miss Robinette captures the alarmingly unhinged qualities of the elderly character while also revealing the quite arresting kook she must’ve been when younger.

As Lou, Mr. Russotto grows from a frustrated nebbish to a man taking his first, shaky steps independently of his crazy family. The splendor of his portrayal lies in the details — the careful, resigned way he makes instant coffee in the microwave, his hemmed-in and resentful body language when stuck in the same room as his brother.

The carnally voracious Julie is played with randy lack of inhibition by Miss Mendenhall. Julie is the kind of gal who not only enjoys multiple partners but multiple locations, and her aerobic approach to sex is impressive and wildly funny.

As enjoyable as it is watching the extreme antics of these familiar actors, “Lenny & Lou” fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Instead, it simply runs out of material. There is an energy dip and sense of desperation in the second half, which is almost inevitable when a play is as jacked up as “Lenny and Lou.”

For the most part, however, “Lenny & Lou” delivers as a sidesplitting and perverse look at familial love.


WHAT: “Lenny & Lou” by Ian Cohen

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth at Theatre J, 1529 16th St., NW, Washington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 26.

TICKETS: $24 to $42

PHONE: 800/494-8497


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