Review - Lemon Sky
Though he did have a brief - very brief - stint on Broadway before Lemon Sky premiered in 1970 at midtown's Off-Broadway Playhouse Theatre, Lanford Wilson was still at that point regarded as a downtown playwright. One of the leading scribes of the crew consisting predominantly of gay men who created Off-Off Broadway at Caffe Cino, his career would seriously take off shortly after Lemon Sky's run with The Hot l Baltimore, Fifth of July, Talley's Folly (Pulitzer winner) and Burn This.
So the Keen Company's excellent new production of his autobiographical drama works as a memory play in two senses; that in which the playwright intended in 1970 and also as look back at the type of theatre that may seem familiar today, but was edging its way toward Broadway acceptance forty years ago.
There's no hiding the Tennessee Williams influence when narrating character Alan (Keith Nobbs) introduces us to the story he's been longing to tell. The fun little twist comes when other characters can't help participating in the storytelling themselves, defending the way they're to be remembered. Director Jonathan Silverstein nimbly handles the balance between scenes of naturalism and moments of meta-theatre, drawing fine performances from his ensemble.
It's the late 1950s and, like Wilson, 17-year-old Alan is a child of divorce and has moved out of his mother's home to attend college in San Diego while living with his father, Doug (Kevin Kilner), who he hasn't seen in twelve years. There, he's introduced to his step-mom, Ronnie (Kellie Overbey), his two young half-brothers, Jerry and Jack (Logan Riley Bruner and Zachary Mackiewicz) and his two teenage foster sisters, the sexually hyper-active Carol (Alyssa May Gold) and the shy Penny (Amie Tedesco).
Bill Clarke's set and Jennifer Paar's costumes play up Doug and Ronnie's style of SoCal suburban cool, their home accented with multi-colored brick and plywood. Though Doug looks rather lounge-lizardy in his white sports jacket and his hobby of taking photos of bikini-clad young women comes off as a little sleazy, Kilner is nevertheless sympathetic as a father who's at a loss as to how to bond with his son. The fact that Alan is just beginning to become aware of his own sexuality is just one source of the tension between them. Nobbs makes smooth transitions from the knowing 1970 Alan and the teenage Alan who can't assimilate into standard Eisenhower-era culture he's found himself rebelling against. There's a troubled forcedness to his light and casual way of sharing his memories, as though Alan is trying to convince us, and himself, that he's made peace with his past.