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Kirkwood's 'Lemon Sky' hits and misses

Theater Review

By Richard Auchus
On April 27, 2012

At this time last year I was on the big stage playing the role of a displeased critic reviewing a play. Now it's no longer just an act.

I went to see Lanford Wilson's "Lemon Sky," presented at Kirkwood Community College in mid-April. The play was directed by Rick Anderson, associate professor of theater. Overall, the production was disappointing.

In the play, a 17-year-old boy named Alan (portrayed by Kivan Kirk) ventures to California to reunite with his estranged father (Nick Ostrem). The father, a secretive, cruel and emotionally void man, had married his former mistress (MaryAnna Nissen). They live with their two young sons (Nick Roberts and Dalton Higdon) and two foster daughters (Rebecca Mione and Monica Dreasher). It's all a ticking time bomb set to explode.

As I walked into Ballantyne Auditorium on opening night, the set looked astounding. Fully embracing the shape of the stage, it was large but also detailed. Each item was meticulously chosen to best reflect the 1950s setting. Not only did it look good but it was functional, as well.

Lighting was top-notch and brought an entire sunrise and sunset into a small room.

Yet, when I entered the auditorium I was instantly bewildered by the beats of modern pop. Although the music was later replaced by tunes that reflected the time period of the play, the modern pop left a sour aftertaste. Yes, this is a hip-hop young people's college, but the experience of the play begins when you enter the theater, regardless of when the play actually starts.

The structure of the play amplified my confusion. Like many of Wilson's pieces, the characters try to bring the audience into the experience of the plot. Sadly, I had to spend most of my time wondering what I was seeing since there was no clear way to distinguish if the cast was talking to each other or to the audience. At one point a character tells you she has died but then sits there for the rest of the act staring off into space.

The actors had the right costumes and the right makeup, but the acting was lacking. The father, for example, had a convincing dialect but was monotone for nearly the entire play. I couldn't tell when he was angry, sad or happy.

When not speaking, many of the characters simply stood there with a blank face, even when a dramatic fight scene was right in front of them. Some of the actors even seemed to hold back, adding to the frustration.

Too much emphasis must have placed on sticking to the script. But scripts don't account for things like body language, voice acting and facial expressions. More emphasis on those things would have helped.

The play had tremendous potential and a lot going for it. The set was great and the lighting was marvelous, but the story was confusing and the acting was dry. I've been in and seen high school plays that blow this one out of the water. If they had simply slowed things down and refined the acting, it would have been a far better production.

Worried that I was being too harsh, I was reassured when only half the audience stood up for the standing ovation. Therefore, I give the show 2.5 out of five stars. It really just tried to be too many things at once.

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