Tuesday, September 27, 2016


"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” 
                                                                   Henry Kissinger (Wikileaks)

LEMON: Hello dear audience, dear good people . . . It’s easy to say we should all be loving and sweet, but meanwhile we’re enjoying a certain way of life - and we’re actually living - due to the existence of certain other people who are willing to take the job of killing on their own backs, and it’s not a bad thing every once in awhile to admit that's the way we’re living, and even to give those certain people a tiny, fractional crumb of thanks. You can be very sure it’s more than they expect. But I think they’d be grateful.
                                                                            Aunt Dan and Lemon, Wallace Shawn

About the distinction between good people and bad people and everyone in between, Wallace Shawn’s Obie acclaimed drama - Aunt Dan and Lemon - is an intricately built play that takes a lot of patience and skill to get through - whether you’re reading it or watching it. The recent Shadowtime Theatre production of this frequently oblique and tantalizing drama (a drama that people seem to love or hate, there is very little in between) was a fulfilling exercise in complex socio-political narrative and extremely skilful thespian enterprise. 
Joanne Latimer (Aunt Dan) & Helen Juvonen (Lemon)

Joanne Latimer as Aunt Dan and Helen Juvonen as Lemon gave remarkable performances as the two central characters embroiled in lengthy monologic discourse that outlines a rather bizarre relationship between kin. Sexual tension that is brought to the forefront only by the end of the drama might have been subtly explored throughout with a sense of quirky tentative physicality between the two. But it was left to the final textual/non-physical moments, with little affection laden physical rapport throughout the play, providing a slightly bewildering sense of who these two women actually were - and had been - for the past eighty minutes.
l-r Joanne Latimer, Helen Juvonen, Daniel Carter, and Breton Lalama

Both performers implanted nuance and power into their characters. Lemon as the fragile flower and Aunt Dan as the somewhat more assertive, ever-blossoming entity of wild reminiscence and opinionated political assertiveness - bordering on aggressive bombastic import. Both Latimer and Juvonen matched each others skill beautifully as they interacted as the oh so subtly affectionate pseudo aunt and n’er do well niece. The supporting ensemble, entering at particular intervals into the drama of the central duo, and at times performing somewhat fragmented bits from the past, fared very well under the lively, measured direction of Daniel Spurgeon. But they might have been supported further through more diversity in stage design.
l-r Jane Hailes and Philip Cairns

At times the time/spatial distinction between characters and scenes was somewhat unclear and the sections were difficult to connect in any narrative-pleasing manner. But performances were solid and entertaining, An especially harrowing and homicidal scene between Daniel Carter as Raimondo and Breton Lalama as Mindy that begins as romantic and ends as, well, frightening, was managed very well within the same space that Lemon lived, yet effectively evoked a different time and place. But similar to the sexual overtones that come very late for Lemon and Dan, the sexual voracity of the characters Raimondo and Mindy could have been sprinkled with more nudity (only the woman was partially naked) thereby both balancing and heightening the tension of the final sensational moment of bondage, unintentional submission, and, well, read the play or watch it on Youtube and find out for yourself.
l-r Helen Juvonen, Daniel Cristofori, Philip Cairns, Jane Hailes, Breton Lalama, Joanne Latimer

Philip Cairns as the Father, Jasper, and Freddie inserted a strong aggressive yet paradoxically jittery element necessary to the character of the hapless dad and the two incidental characters that provide an essential contrast for the overall ensemble. His interactions with Jane Hailes as the mother, were powerful and menacing. As Lemon's Mom Haile's also inserted strong and essential counter attacks on Dan’s rather questionable view of the world and politics. And Daniel Cristofori as a kind of gigolo character forever bandying about in his well packed underpants was a breath of fresh, cologne’ish macho air as his prowess and sly swagger was suitably marked by a paradoxically smaller physical presence nicely contrasting his larger than life performance. 

And the world and politics are what Wallace Shawn seems to have been going on about in this monologue heavy Obie award winning play. Although set in the somewhat distant past (mid 1960’s) the recurring presence through Dan’s nostalgic obsessive rants regarding Richard Nixon’s secretary of State Henry Kissinger might be linked to current politicians trying to make sense of the seemingly permanent wars raging globally that every governmental head off state is forced to deal with ad nauseum. As we set out on yet another path of self-styled late capitalist destruction on the eve of the ‘greatest’ empires next election, the decisions those in power make put us on the edge of our terrifying seats - much like Aunt Dan does to Lemon and any given spectator during her many unsettling and dubious observations that implicate the viewing public in complex ways. An early response to the original production suggested that the primary argument/confrontation in the drama occurs between the playwright and his audience.
l-r - Helen Juvonen, Jane Hailes, Philip Cairns, Joanne Latimer

The overall setting, a little english garden house outback behind the big dwelling place is so essential in a play like this as a metaphor to sitting back and watching the past present and future blur by - as Lemon is forced to do. And yet the set, although effective visually as a sullen portrayal of Lemon's inner world (unlike the light flowery English’y poster for the show) was somewhat somber, without enough detailed effect. A few scattered books on largely inaccessible shelves had a looming, haunting quality but presented no clear distinction between playing spaces for the other scenes. This confined space, although evocative, did not serve to frame or contrast Lemon's isolation in an effective or lighthearted way that could have provided crucial dramatic tension. Lightheartedness can save a heavy drama of this kind from collapsing into drudgery. But the two featured performers (Latimer & Juvonen) and the ensemble’s engaging ways and physical acumen brought Shawn’s complex, at times convoluted and concise thoughts to the forefront and made for a very entertaining experience.

Kristen Johnston and Lili Taylor in the 2004 off-Broadway revival 
(an interview with Lily Taylor on her role in Aunt Dan and Lemon can be seen on youtube)


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