Limonade Tous les Jours
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
April 7, 2010
In Paris, at a cafe, a French woman (cabaret singer) and an American man (who knows what he does?—more on that difficulty soon), meet for lemonade with a mutual friend. The mutual friend never shows up and the pair, both of whom have recently broken up, fall into an affair, agreeing only to the moment until the moment takes them over. Limonade Tous les Jours is a play rife with devices that could very easily be dismissible but ultimately is not, due in large part to the manifold strengths this production's team endows to the play. It is more richness than perhaps the play deserves but provides for a light pleasant rumination on the suddenness of love.
The text is almost entirely light pattering speeches. There is a natural enough feel to it and the conversational bits ping nicely in a believable way, but, as with much real life dialogue, these words alone feel as if they need a bit of anchoring. Some form of being filled out by those all-important things that are unsaid would ground these words and their inherent lightness requires the tension of the unsaid between two people. Here there is the very engaging Yaya (strongly played by Eleanor Handley) whose incessant chatter manages to be light but sufficiently full of character so as not to be annoying as all get out. She questions constantly, making pronouncements and discarding them just as quickly as they are made; and yet there is a questioning at work that has a purpose. It effectively echoes those recognizable questions about what the hell exactly falling in love is? And how the whys and whens affect that bizarre, intriguing instance as well as the quandaries of sorting out what is love and what is simply emotional or physical lust. As Yaya stretches and examines these moments she becomes more and more interesting, but there is also an increasing awareness that the most effective engagements in this production are all internal and individual. For a play about falling in love, it is an oddly singular affair.
Yet a lot of wonderful work is going into creating a sense of whimsy and enchantment. The side man of all scenes is played with great talent and a lovely singing voice by Anton Briones. When onstage alone, he is entirely at home. When with either member of the couple, how Briones's character feels toward that person in the scene is entirely clear and fills the moment. Director Diana Basmajian has inserted videos of the couple interacting to fill out the relationship's progress, to add in some of the unsaid, to help flesh out the relationship. If a tad limited in scope, they do help extend the script and build the character of Andrew in a way the text seems reticent to do. Playwright Charles Mee has loaded the majority of the text onto Yaya and even if, towards the beginning, the words sound like a male fantasy of what a woman might say, they are still Yaya's to say and it leaves Andrew (Austin Pendleton) largely mute.
A fairly clear picture of Yaya is created and basically Andrew is man with grown children whose marriage is over. That there is no chemistry between them and very little active non-textual interplay makes it ultimately quite difficult to identify a couple here. The normally deft and patently talented Austin Pendleton seems awkward and uncomfortable in the pair. He is at his strongest when Andrew, evidently bothered by Yaya's comparative youth, asserts strongly that he does not want to sleep with his daughter. There is a sudden sense, absent elsewhere in this production, of the interior struggle this man is having with the depth of his feelings, battling his own opinion that the woman is too young for him.
It is unclear whether the actual age disparity between the actors is generating the disconnectedness or if the role is just too "straight" against Yaya's "quirky" to be comfortable. Whatever the cause, these two characters rarely connect, and oddly is typified by how Yaya is continually undressing and dressing but Andrew's biggest reveal is removing his socks. They are at their most connected when mostly dressed and sitting in a bathtub (in a fun design device by costumer Charles Schoonmaker and set designer Hilary Nixon), as if the closeness and lack of movement finally allows them to focus in on what they are saying to each other; the frail text suddenly blooms and becomes a vase to their attempts to sort out that elusive entity that is falling in love. If more of this production could take on that profoundly difficult, deceptively simple interplay, how much more wonderful it could be.
As is, there is a lot of fine work—some smart, concise and wonderfully evocative design by Nixon, Schoonmaker, and Kathleen Dobbins (lighting), and Cris Frisco's musical direction shows off both of the singers beautifully. If not a full-bodied glass of red wine, Limonade Tous les Jours is a light pleasant refreshment of its own.