Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Aunt Dan and Lemon

By Wallace Shawn

Aunt Dan and Lemon
Aunt Dan and Lemon

Directed by Matthew Reeder

Produced by Backstage Theatre Company

At Chopin Theatre’s studio

Provocative storytelling works due to a couple of terrific performances.

“. . .no society has ever considered the taking of life an unpardonable crime or even, really, a major tragedy. It’s something that’s done when it has to be done, and it’s as simple as that.
— Lemon

I’m not sure what to make of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, now in a riveting production by Backstage Theatre Company in the intimate basement studio at Chopin Theatre.  Aunt Dan is a dark cautionary tale, a black comedy and a mordant  tale about the chilling subversive nature of influence.  This is a play that demands sharp listening skills as it contains several long monologues about geopolitics, the nature of societal survival, and the roots of  the urge to  kill to preserve order in society.

aunt dan and lemon

Playwright Shawn has much to say that will infuriate both liberals and conservatives as Lemon (Rebekah Ward-Hays in an impressively effective performance) tells her story from memories of growing up under the strong influence of Aunt Dan (Brenda Barrie in a coldly chilling turn). With an undertone of gay sexuality, we see how the family friend, Aunt Dan moves from friend of Lemon’s parents to her personal confident that began when Lemon was eleven years old.

At first I thought this work was a weird coming-of-age memory play but after listening to Aunt Dan’s rambling monologue about her hero, Henry Kissinger, I realized that playwright Shawn uses Dan and later Lemon to voice his political and philosophical views of society.  We eventually see how Aunt Dan’s teaches Lemon about free sexuality as well as controversial social philosophy.  There is a raw bondage sex scene and gay innuendo as part of Dan’s education of Lemon. We see how Dan’s striking influence under the power of friendship and intimacy shapes the warped world view that Lemon expounds in her last speech.  She makes a chilling case for a government’s purpose being to take whatever murderous measures it must to protect our standard of living as she tries to explain away the Nazi’s murder of six million Jews.

Aunt Dan and Lemon is one of those plays that offers a mixture of intoxicating performances, provocative ideas and eerie treatment on the power of influence.  This is a well acted cautionary tale that begs to be seen.


Tom Williams

At Chopin Theatre’s studio theatre, 1543 W. Division Street, Chicago, IL, Call 800-838-3006, tickets $20, $18 for seniors,  Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission, through December 20, 2009

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