Written by Wallace Shawn
Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques
Aunt Dan.............Mary Driscoll
Mother..........Mary Lou Maraganis
Mindy.....Julie Christine Phillips
Flora..............Julie Ann Wilks
Lighting Design by Jeffrey Gardiner
Sound Design and Original Compositions Paul Argiro
Stage Managers JulieAnn Wilks & Patrick Hart
Production Assistant Nick Linsky
For TheatreZone's production of "Aunt Dan and Lemon" their Artistic Director carefully chose a dozen different body-types and very expressive faces --- but then she chose a sprawling, repetitious, talk-heavy play for them and the audience to chew on. Wallace Shawn's script is a series of narrative monologs, directed straight to the audience, in which a young woman attempts to explain why she is apparently dying of anorexia brought about by an aversion to the blood-bath that eating meat represents.
Lemon's autobiography is illustrated by a handfull of brief scenes involving other people --- but largely by long speeches by Aunt Dan that might as well be monologs, since her passionate defense of poor Henry Kissinger's selfless prosecution of the Vietnam War rarely leaves anyone space to get a counter- sentence in edgewise.
Danielle Fauteux Jacques directs these scenes with deft flair. There's a group in a bar, for instance, where background chatter occasionaly punctuates a foreground seduction as though both where carefully orchestrated. Lemon's first dialog with her Aunt Dan(ielle) has her wriggling with uncontrollable delight in the older woman's lap. And when people pop briefly into Lemon's reminiscences they lounge or cuddle in relaxed ease. Jacques' only solution for those monologs, however, is to nail the poor actor to the floor to unleash a flat, unmodulated flood of words.
Mary Driscoll's Aunt Dan drowns in her own verbiage, with too much to say and too little variation in saying it all. But Mary Lou Maraganis, who argues the other side, suffers as badly from verbal drought. Given almost no lines in retort, she is reduced to standing mildly impatiently, waiting for an occasional, all too infrequent cue.
Others in what amounts to a crowd of cameo roles have it a little better. Julie Christine Phillips plays an amoral hedonist friend of Aunt Dan's, willing to auction her body or first seduce then strangle a john (in a Mafia hit) --- whenever she needs money. Jeff Garlin epitomizes the swinging-sexy seventies with relaxed enthusiasm, while Julie Ann Wilks with a scant half-dozen lines creates a complete, believably drunken character in her moment on the stage.
Director Jaques does little with stage-pictures or movement, leaving her actors only words and hand-gestures to work with. And she has called for no real shape either to the speeches or the show as a whole. Every line comes full-blown and sincere from every mouth, with no variation in pace or emphasis, and few giggles or ironic twists. The arguments spin themselves out with debating-society conviction in every word, and there's never a hint that this relentless defense of "silent majority" passivity could be laughed at instead of swallowed.
At the center of everything on the small Actors' Workshop stage, participating or merely reacting, is the incredibly expressive face and form of Lynda Newton playing Lemon. Hers is the only supply active body in the cast. Her adoring, unquestioning infatuation with her misguided mentor, her responses to everything taking place on stage, are instantly apparent even when she's crouched with her back to the audience. She can even make a defense of Nazi death-camps as "defending a way of life" sound, momentarily, plausible.
This is a production in process. It would be interesting
to see, on closing night, what the cast will make of increased
confidence in their command of the lines, what will change,
sharpen, or emerge from the dialog of the play with its audiences,
and the battle of the cast with Wallace Shawn's cataract of words.