by John Stoltenberg
Lee J. Kaplan is an appealing and accomplished actor, and as his ambitious and athletic solo performance as the many characters in Bully amply demonstrates, he’s a facile and gifted impersonator. Imagine a talent like Robin Williams inhabiting a Men’s Health fitness model and you’ll get the idea. The guy looks for all the world like a real guy’s guy, one who’s got it all together with everything going for him. No wimpy kid was he.
No wait, hold that thought. The performance has just begun and Kaplan is sharing an entry from a diary kept by a real-life boy. The passage is painful to read. It’s about being bullied, over and over. And it gets worse, year by year, vulgar taunts, brutal aggression. The boy dreads going to school; he develops uncontrollable tics; his sustained suffering is palpable. All the more so because this is Kaplan’s own story, in his own words, his own emotions still raw. With Bully, which Kaplan also wrote, he lifts the mask behind which countless adults conceal an Everychild’s story so severe and prevalent that the US government is trying to intervene. Kaplan’s brave coming out as a childhood bullying victim is reason enough to attend to the profound social significance of this timely DC Capital Fringe Festival show. But his compelling performance makes it a must-see.