The homeless lie on bare mattresses and rumpled blankets beneath the A/C/E subway lines using cardboard boxes and crates as furniture. Their lives fall somewhere between harsh inescapable reality and whimsical drug induced fantasies filled with ghosts from their past. This pit of despair beckons to an articulate young college professor named Lambert (Clinton Faulkner) who says his heartbreak over a failed relationship has brought him to this place. However, his fellow sufferers believe there is more to his story. Leslie Lee’s bleak drama, The Book of Lambert is a strong, unflinching character study of six souls wasting their lives away in the shadowy corners of a subway station. When the play opens, each character stirs in his or her sleep, eventually stretching to life to reveal the events of the past that have anchored their present. The obstacles range from small faraway memories to unsettled insecurities to the most debilitating – neglect and disapproval from unloving parents.
The first act shows the depths to which each person has sunk while the second half provides some much needed hope, focusing on the characters' determination to break whatever it is that has chained them.
Joresa Blount plays a young pregnant woman named Bonnie who possesses hard edges but also a sympathetic center. She is prickly towards the world but still hopeful about getting back into it.
Sadrina Johnson gives a unique twist to Priscilla, an exotic dancer who has been used up and thrown out. Johnson is over-the-top when indulging in Princilla’s reckless wild side, but finds a poignant note of somber clarity when the fun winds down, forcing Pricilla to face herself.
The elders of the group, Otto and Zinth, are played by impressive stage veterans Arthur French and Gloria Sauvé respectively, each expertly capturing the nuances of a passionless marriage and the futility of enduring a doomed life merely waiting for its end.
And finally, there is Clancy (Howard L. Wieder), a self-professed “obstacle police” who tickets people and objects that obstruct anything from sunlight pouring through a window to boxes blocking cars from driving down the street. Clancy pretends to just be visiting until Lambert furiously and violently confronts him. With the eloquent phrasing of a polished academic he demands, “Tell me about the pain that has rotted your cerebellum and brought you to this homeless boneyard.”
But a poetic vernacular is not the only attribute distinguishing Lambert from the others in his company. His comrades clothe themselves in torn sweaters and unraveling rags, while Lambert is dressed in a stiff white-collared shirt half tucked inside of his slacks with a loosely knotted tie still dangling from his neck. It would appear that this man walked straight from a university classroom to a cardboard box.
Though everyone in the subway station has a story, Lambert’s situation is the only one that begs the question, “Why?” The others ended up in their miserable predicament through understandable means: broken homes, bad choices, and addictions to drugs. But Lambert chose this life, and continues to choose it with each new day. He has the best chance of leaving. The fact that he doesn’t is the tightly wound mystery at the heart of the story.
With this sizeable heaping of heavy subject matter, The Book of Lambert could easily feel as weighty as its characters' troubles. Fortunately, Lee keeps the action fast-paced, colorful, and at times even humorous.
Though the characters' obstacles are large and seemingly unresolvable, the play does conclude with a ray of promise. Those willing to face and conquer their problems have the potential to one day reclaim the lives and return to the light.