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Monday, February 16, 2009

Review- The Book Of Lambert

The Fab Marquee review by Peyton Wise.

The Book of Lambert is a nineteenth century novel beneath the subway lines, gothic and sprawling. It engages in the manor Middlemarch or Les Miserables, presenting ideas by slowly revealed characterization and plot. It requires the Facebook and MTV generations to recalibrate their attention, but offers rich rewards for doing so.

The play deals with six people living in an abandoned subway tunnel. Their spiritual leader is Lambert, a college professor who abandoned the world above on the heels of a disastrous love affair. His cohabitants include an alcoholic nymphomaniac dancer, a pregnant user, an amnesiac policeman, and a cankerous elderly couple made up of a blind man and a hardscrabble romantic. As Lambert writes his own book and quotes others, he has flashbacks of his relationship’s life and death. In the process of exorcising his own ghosts, Lambert compels those around him to revisit and perhaps begin to face the moments that lead them to abandon the daylight world. While the moments include the horrors one might expect, the play surprises with the impact of actions with benign intentions.

Lucille Lortel and Obie Award winning actor Arthur French as Otto and Gloria Sauve as Zinth
photo credit: Joe Bly

The program describes this production of The Book of Lambert as an update from the piece written 30+ years ago. The language feels contemporary, but some of the driving ideas feel dated. The climax of several character’s stories is a realization of some hidden memory or characteristic, the revelation of which makes the person whole. The idea that all one has to do to break the hold of an abusive memory is recover it seems naive. The fact that this simple idea is set in so complex a play makes one wonder if it is a holdover from the original production, written at a time when bohemia truly believed that understanding oneself could lead to a peaceful world. Likewise, amidst an intricate picture of interracial communication, Lambert’s white lover openly fetishizes black culture as the unknown exotic. Not only does it seem unlikely that anyone with an education or a TV could know nothing about African-Americans, but it seems doubly unlikely that any college professor wouldn’t immediately recognize the exoticization for what it was.

Lambert begins the play with the prologue to Romeo and Juliet and liberally sprinkles references throughout the play. It’s occasionally jarring to see such callous objectification described by some of the English language’s most incredible love poetry, but it’s a better metaphor than we realize. Romeo and Juliet are the ultimate kids in love with love, who fall in love without even knowing each other’s name. Both in the flashbacks and the present day, Lambert idealizes a relationship without communication, a lover with only self-interest. Despite the ephemeral charm Heather Massie brings to the role and love’s traditional eye problems, it seems shocking that Lambert doesn’t realize she has no idea who he is. In one painful moment, he says he’s not going to ‘shuck and jive her’ as he acts like her caricatured idea.

Sadrina Johson as Priscilla and Joresa Blount as Bonnie
photo credit: Joe Bly

The strong ensemble includes a couple standout performances. Clinton Faulkner has an amazing grasp of language and the charisma to carry what could be a callous role. Sadrina Johnson, as Lambert’s ‘interim lover’, exhibits both the fragility of the lovelorn and volatility of an alcoholic. Gloria Suave is heartbreaking as Zinth, a worn-down woman trying to force happiness. The design is hauntingly evocative, pulling you into this strange world from the moment you enter the theatre.

The Book of Lambert, while likely to connect with the audience’s mind rather than their empathy, is interesting exploration of the labyrinth of psyche, especially the caves of love, need and perception.

La MaMa e.t.c. presents
Leslie Lee's
The Book Of Lambert
February 13th-March 1st, 2009

Tickets are $18 for adults and $13 for students and seniors and can be purchased by calling 212-475-7710 or visiting

La MaMa e.t.c. | 74A East 4th St | Manhattan

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