nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
September 23, 2011
Perhaps memory is man’s biggest enemy. Alan, the protagonist of Lanford Wilson’s autobiographical play Lemon Sky, would likely agree. Following in the footsteps of Tom Wingfield, Alan, Wilson’s stand-in, is attempting to tell us a story which, in his words, he’s been “trying to get down for a long time.” It’s about the six months he spent living with his father’s family in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, when he was seventeen. It’s a harrowing tale, brought to life in Jonathan Silverstein’s first-rate production, the opener of Keen Company’s 2011-2012 season.
1970 is when Alan finally decides to look back on that short period in the late 1950s. Douglas, his father, abandoned the family when Alan was five, taking off from Nebraska to California. Along the way he married Ronnie, and they started a family of their own, siring Jerry and Jack, aged 12 and 5 in this particular instance, and fostering two damaged teen girls, Penny and Carol, the former smart and innocent, the latter an unhappy pill-popper labeled by her new parents as a “whore” because of her promiscuity.
Before long, secrets are revealed and the skeletons of the past are dug up, and the tensions that have been bubbling to the surface finally explode in a confrontation that perhaps Alan, a selective, not entirely reliable narrator, didn’t want us to know. Eventually we realize that he’s not really telling the story; the story is rising up around him.
Silverstein has assembled a first-rate company that collectively imbues each character with enough humanity to make them seem, well, human. Keith Nobbs makes for a sensitive and intelligent Alan; he oozes charisma and is thoroughly captivating throughout as he locks eyes with audience members. His wonderful rapport with Kellie Overbey’s warm and kind Ronnie makes the play’s conclusion even more devastating.
As Douglas, Kevin Kilner mixes a very nice wounded quality with just enough gruffness that it’s not much of a shock that when he gets mad, he gets ugly. Amie Tedesco and Alyssa May Gold are quite fine as Penny and Carol, infusing both with that crucial underlying sadness. Even the children, Logan Riley Bruner and Zachary Mackiewicz, aren’t ingratiating.
Bill Clarke’s wood-paneled set with furniture colored in a variety of mustards is very reminiscent of a late '50s/early '60s household, and Josh Bradford’s lighting and Jennifer Paar’s costumes are particularly attractive. Obadiah Eaves sound is so naturalistic that it takes a few seconds before you realize that it’s coming from a speaker on the stage. Silverstein’s pacing is pitch perfect, and even though the final confrontation doesn’t build as well as it needs to, it still hits you like a ton of bricks.
Simply put, bring a tissue.