by Cindy Pierre
published February 20, 2009
The Book of Lambert
now playing Off Broadway at the La Mama E.T.C.
through March 1
With Clinton Faulkner's booming, resonant voice and his distinct, commanding presence (though overly-tweaked by director
Cyndy A. Marion), it's easy to discern that Lambert, the character that he portrays, is the leader of the lost and forlorn pack in Leslie
Lee's The Book of Lambert. What is not always so obvious is whether he is leading his
underground motley crew out into the light or further into the tunnel. While there may be some
foibles and plot problems along the road, there's never a dull moment or an escape from reflection in this dramedy about a group of tortured
souls hiding from life in an abandoned NYC subway tunnel.
Although Russel Phillip Drapkin's dim lighting and Andis Gjoni's set is meager enough to convey the undesirable living
conditions, the set is missing some prop pieces in conjunction with some lines of dialogue that could have distinguished it as a subway tunnel
early on. One would think that the characters were squatting in an abandoned building were it not
for the playbill and the press materials. The rumbling sound of a train and the appearance of
train tracks (that dub as the underground railroad) don't solidify the location until much later.
And aside from the lack of privacy and possessions in the living quarters, it's not nearly as squalid or as rodent-infested as one would
imagine it to be. But the set is not the only aspect of the production that isn't
substantiated. The whole purpose for the characters' sub-dwelling is also lacking
Despite some hard knock life stories and good performances (minus several flubbed lines) from Bonnie (Joresa Blount), a pregnant
junkie that was once raped by her father, Priscilla (Sadrina Johnson), a commitment-phobic dancer turned serial bedmate, Clancy (Howard L.
Wieder), an Irish ex-cop wrestling with racism and love for a former teacher, Miss Wambaugh (Omrae Smith), and Otto (Arthur French) and
Zinth (Gloria Suave), a struggling, older married couple living with shadows of past glories, none of their situations seem desperate enough
to drive them into the tunnel. Worst of all is Lambert, an African-American ex-college
professor suffering from the loss of his Caucasian ex-lover, Virginia (Heather Massie). A
broken heart and some identity issues seem like a weak excuse to hide from society for someone who constantly cries out “gimme some hurt!”
and prances about the stage like he's the prince of pain. In a state where self-help, therapy,
numbness, overwork, cynicism and various ways to experience pain and pleasure in an unhealthy way exist, it's hard to imagine that these
issues would send New Yorkers retreating into the dark. However, as the play also addresses
psychological darkness, these issues are much more believable as triggers for that.
Structurally, the stories are told in a non-linear fashion, favoring instead concept over plot development. Although this format keeps the story lively and unpredictable, it also makes it difficult to connect with
the fragmented moments. Sex scenes between Lambert and Priscilla are executed humorously, but
nonsensically; Lambert may make the gestures to unzip his pants, but not even his robust thrusting motions can penetrate Priscilla's rolled up
tights. Miss Wambaugh, a character used sparingly and unnecessarily, is introduced too late after
one hour into the 2.5 hour play.
The Book of Lambert is a testament to the sorrow and pain of yesterday and yesteryear that some of us
relive every day. It is a story of hope and a story of conviction, but also an honest story in
the sense that it acknowledges that some of us never make it out into the light. That may be
bleak, but that's reality. And the one thing that this flawed, but ambitious production does the
best, using psychology and apparitions as its medium, is keep it real.
cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com