Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lemon Sky

As I traveled to the Clurman Theatre to see the Keen Company's revival of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky, I took a mental tour through other Wilson plays I've seen: Hot L Baltimore, Balm in Gilead, Fifth of July, The Rimers of Eldritch, Talley's Folly, Book of Days. And it struck me just how strong a playwright Wilson is, how compassionate and insightful. I was delighted to be on my way to a Wilson play I had never seen before.

Keith Nobbs, Kevin Kilner
Photo: Richard Termine
Unfortunately, I found Lemon Sky to be weak and flat. The autobiographical tale of the six months that Wilson lived with his father when he was 17, it relies far too much on telling and far too little on showing. Wilson's stand-in, Alan, narrates the story in great swaths of not-that-interesting monologue. The other characters occasionally address the audience as well, mostly in asides. Sometimes two characters address the audience together, as though they are reminiscing to us.

This structure is not the problem per se. Many compelling plays use a combination of addressing the audience and scenes, but Lemon Sky is (1) not compelling and (2) so short of interactions that Alan takes time to assure us, "There'll be a scene. Those who are confused will say thank God, something to watch, maybe everyone will stop flying around." But the show isn't confusing; it's boring. My main thought during intermission was, "I wonder if this ever turns into a play." (It doesn't.)

(possible spoilers below)

Another problem with Lemon Sky is the plot, such as it is. Is anyone surprised that Alan is probably gay? Is anyone surprised that his father probably made a pass at one of the teenage girls to whom he and his wife are foster parents? Does it matter that the other girl dies in a car accident? Is anyone surprised that the father turns out not to be charming or loving?

Most importantly: Does anyone care about the characters? I certainly didn't.

This is not all Wilson's fault. Jonathan Silverstein's direction is lackluster, and the performers are mostly ineffectual. Keith Nobbs as Alan lacks the charm and/or intensity to carry the audience through his travails. Kevin Kilner as the father has dynamic moments but his performance is ultimately one note. Kellie Overbey as the father's second wife barely registers. Amie Tedesco and Alyssa May Gold bring little to the table as the teen foster children. Zachary Mackiewicz as the younger of Alan's step-brothers is more interested in the audience than the play; he actually stared a few times at a man in the first row. Only Logan Riley Bruner as the older of Alan's step-brothers comes across as a three-dimensional person worth caring about.

(Press ticket, 2nd row on the aisle)


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