Encore Michigan

Puzzle Piece does Wilson’s ‘Lemon Sky’ in Ferndale

Review February 04, 2017 Martin F. Kohn

FERNDALE, Mich. – Lemon Sky, one of Lanford Wilson’s earlier (1970) and more problematic plays, is his “Glass Menagerie”: a semi-autobiographical drama introduced as a memory by a narrator who steps into the action. Like Wilson himself, the narrator travels from the Midwest to San Diego as a young man to re-connect with his father.

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Comcast/Xfinity is a proud sponsor of EncoreMichigan and of professional theatre throughout Michigan.

The parent-adult child relationship is at the heart of Lemon Sky as it is in “The Glass Menagerie,” although “heart” may not be the right word. Tennessee Williams’ play is bittersweet; Wilson’s is mostly bitter.

In Laura Heikkinen’s Puzzle Piece Theatre production, Jeffrey Miller plays son Alan as a nice fellow, a bit unformed (he’s just out of high school) and eager to re-establish a relationship with his father, Douglas, who comes with a second family: wife Ronnie, two little boys, and two teenage foster daughters. Douglas, who may remind you of someone, seems genial at first, but is revealed as a blowhard, entitled, full of himself and a petty dictator. Sergio Mautone plays him just that way.

The differences between Alan and Doug are mirrored in the culture clash shock that Alan experiences having come from the stability of Nebraska to booming Southern California where hundreds of new homes spring up seemingly overnight, nobody walks anywhere and people go shopping for groceries at 4 in the morning. And if that isn’t enough, Wilson tosses in an earthquake at the end of Act I.

The earthquake is no disaster, just your run-of-the-mill California temblor, but Wilson leaves a ton of situations unresolved at the end of the first act, which is why there is a second act.

Loose ends get tied up but “Lemon Sky,” though located firmly in California, is all over the map, done in by its lack of focus—ironic, considering that Doug is an avid amateur photographer. He is not in it for the art, though. His specialty is cheesecake, which does not augur well for the two teenage foster daughters, each of whom has her own detailed story.

There’s also Doug’s wife, Ronnie, for whom he may or may not have abandoned Alan and Alan’s mother. An archetypal enabler, Ronnie specializes in ignoring and excusing bad behavior. Paige Vanzo plays her with layers of vacancy, if such a thing is possible.

And every so often, characters break the fourth wall to remind everyone that they’re in a play. Except for Doug reminding us a lot of you-know-who, Lemon Sky seems a peculiar choice for revival. Still, we all have families and families aren’t always easy, and we all face disappointment. Lemon Sky reminds us of that.

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