With drawn-out, almost excruciating monologues, and a harsh, minimalist set, subtlety is not the word that comes to mind during a decidedly sour performance of “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” written by Wallace Shawn, produced by Anya Brickman Raredon ’04, and directed by Samantha Lazarus ’02.
The cast should be given credit for trying. The script is a difficult study of human morality, designed to make the audience question whether one could justify the Holocaust on the grounds that it preserved a way of life. To successfully pull off such a dark, brooding play without having to distribute free Prozac for audience members at the end, the actors must be capable of making each speech more than an endless repetition of intonation and demeanor.
It is the lack of variation in Raredon’s production that is the root of its failure. All the monologues begin to sound the same after a while; a steady drone soon replaces the purpose behind each speech, marked intermittently with a slight change in scene or a particularly sordid plunge into a character’s life.
Once in a while, an actor manages to perfectly capture a character’s sense of desperation or fleeting glimpse of love, but these scenes are few and far between.
Nevertheless, there are several haunting scenes, artfully created with a combination of vivid blocks of light and a wash of darkness that seem utterly appropriate for the story.
The play takes the form of Lenore’s, or Lemon’s, (Ellisa Frazier ’04) recollections of her childhood encounters with a series of bizarre characters. This structure gives way to a number of morbid philosophical vignettes.
The first scene opens when Lemon, who with trembling hands and a glassy-eyed stare that encompasses the audience, begins a speech about her life. Standing in a single square of almost blinding light, her pleasant greeting alerts the audience to the neurosis made evident by her hand gestures.
Her monologue slowly turns from herself, her illness, and her solitude, to the Holocaust. Even the gas chambers are described with a horrific smile. As silent, pale faces watch from the rear of the stage, one realizes that her sickly grimace is not a mark of Lemon’s genial nature, but instead, of her respect for what the Nazis accomplished.
It is this almost painful introduction that serves as a catalyst for a string of shocking vignettes interwoven with lengthy speeches. The speeches are usually given by the irreverent and opinionated “Aunt Dan,”(Sophie Nimmannit ’02) a friend of Lemon’s parents and an almost oppressive presence on the stage.
Whether swooning over Henry Kissinger or speaking of a week-long love affair, Aunt Dan (who is at first a refreshing change from Lemon’s father’s obsessive, angry stance, and her mother’s benign but almost tortured presence) becomes an object of hatred.
She should be, I suppose, since Aunt Dan’s deteriorating morality becomes the fuel for Lemon’s present madness. For me, though, the hatred for Aunt Dan was rooted in boredom rather than shock.
Throughout the play, the tension in the air becomes almost unbearable as Aunt Dan batters each character with opinionated speeches and obscene stories, leaving almost no time for anyone to get a word in edgewise.
As the plot degenerates into an endless spiral of despair, with each character seemingly diving into the most torturous existence imaginable, it is clear that Lemon’s neurosis is a product of her miserable surroundings. It is no wonder that the deaths she describes fail to draw her sympathy.
If there is one reason to see the play, it is the convincing work of Francesca Cecil ’04 as Mindy, a prostitute and Aunt Dan’s friend who appears in several of the more notable scenes. Cecil succeeds where others do not in portraying the struggle between compassion and self-interest, a struggle that is the thematic heart of the play.