Written by Mark Levy; Directed by Kristen Keim
Part of the 2018 FRIGID New York Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.2.18
UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place
by Shani R. Friedman on 2.22.18
Lenny Bruce is Not Afraid.
BOTTOM LINE: When the end is nigh, stick to the fundamentals: booze and sex.
Guy meets girl. Guy makes out with girl. Suddenly, he cries out, “No, no, no!” When he goes into the other room to give himself a pep talk, it seems like a funny and weird meet-cute. But then a lost bottle of wine leads to a whole other level of panic. “It’s dangerous,” the girl says. “There are hordes nearby.” The guy tries to downplay her alarm, remarking, “Not hordes, just scattered beings.”
It’s been just a few months since a cataclysmic virus (think The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later) took out virtually everyone on the planet. Mal (Kayla Mason) and Max (playwright Mark Levy), who somehow find each other on the dangerous streets of New York, may be the only two people left. As they debate going for another bottle of wine, Mal, edgy, talks about having had to kill her brother "in the woods with a tire iron.” Her fiancé and unborn child also died from the illness, and Mal has been on her own since her sister became ill and disappeared.
As the two continue their cautious give and take, Max, a bundle of fumbling earnestness, is eager to have sex, but believes she’s entirely out of his league. And Max still hasn’t given over entirely to cynicism or nihilism. He feels hopeful after meeting Mal at the Duane Reade, and believes that fate brought them together—he’d gone there to get rat poison to kill himself. “You’re the first person who hasn’t wanted to eat me,” he gushes. “I value that so much.” After he proposes that they put all their weapons on the floor (guns, knives, etc.) and she agrees, he yells, “Awesome!” How the night ends is a mystery.
With death just beyond the door, Levy as playwright raises the stakes on the "will they or won’t they?" question. While the sex angle is played for laughs and pathos, the more serious question—will Max and Mal kill each other, or be killed by outside forces—keeps the show on a deliberately off-kilter tilt. Although the story is more awkward than funny, Levy has a strong ear for dialogue and skillfully juxtaposes the humor and anxiety of a first date with the terror of having your face eaten off. Mason is utterly believable as a damaged woman who has been through hell in a matter of months but who may still have a glimmer of trust within. Levy tackles the role of the anti-heartthrob with gusto.
(Lenny Bruce is Not Afraid plays at UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, through March 4, 2018. The running time is 60 minutes. Performances are Fri 2/16 at 8:50, Tue 2/20 at 5:30, Wed 2/21 at 10:30, Sun 2/25 at 5:10, and Fri 3/2 at 10:30. Tickets are $20 and are available at horsetrade.info.)
Lenny Bruce is Not Afraid is by Mark Levy. Directed by Kristen Keim.
The cast is Kayla Mason and Mark Levy.