Leslie Lee Goes Underground With The Book of Lambert


The Bible contains some pretty oddball passages—the Revelations alone argue for the ancient existence of LSD. The Book of Lambert, the holy text that lends Leslie Lee’s new play its title, also offers some peculiar chapter and verse. Having broken up with his white girlfriend and suffered a subsequent mental breakdown, erstwhile English professor Lambert retreats to a disused subway tunnel with a band of followers. There he scribbles scriptures such as “An Ode to Flatworms, Ribbon worms, and Roundworms” and partial parables like “The hounds bay in the evening May while Dolphia sits and cackles and throws unshelled peanuts in their gaping mouths.” First Corinthians, it ain’t.

Lee’s The First Breeze of Summer, revived by the Signature Theatre last August, won him renewed acclaim and led him to return to Lambert, which he’d abandoned 30 years ago. The revamp isn’t successful. Lee has updated some of the language and likely fiddled with the play’s mix of realism and absurdum, but he’s left in a wealth of extraneous dialogue and some fairly unreconstructed views of women, sexual desire, and race. Yes, Lambert’s girlfriend is portrayed as naïve, but it’s difficult to imagine a cutie so blinkered that she’d exclaim to her black beau, “Gonna be a SOUL sister. Yeah, I’m gonna laugh like you black people do. Yeah, and I’m gonna dance the way you all dance, too.” Then she offers a helpful demonstration.

Like the script, Cyndy A. Marion’s direction doesn’t require more than one dimension from her actors, though old hands Arthur French and Gloria Sauvé, and occasionally Clinton Faulkner as Lambert, transcend the text. Rather than include this play in Lee’s canon, it’s best consigned to the apocrypha.

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