Sunday, December 11, 2011

Just about to give up on Lanford Wilson

This blog post contains spoilers about Landford Wilson's LEMON SKY

I just read LEMON SKY and very much dislike it. I don't despise it the way I despise TALLEY'S FOLLY, but I like it less than BURN THIS, which I didn't like very much, but at least you watch people do things onstage. LEMON SKY is characters talking at the audience half the time.

You know how people in theatre are always banging on about "show don't tell"? Well LEMON SKY is pretty much 80% tell and 20% show. And yet most theatre people adore and revere Lanford Wilson. And no, that's not exaggeration. Here's what Frank Rich said about Wilson in his 1985 review of LEMON SKY:
A memory play in content and form, ''Lemon Sky'' reminds us that Mr. Wilson is our primary heir to Tennessee Williams.
Just as unbelievable:
If you have any doubt about the magnitude of the loss we suffered when playwright Lanford Wilson died this past March, Keen Company's heart-stopping production of his 1970 play "Lemon Sky" makes it all too abundantly clear.

This review gets it right. Especially this part:
Wilson takes his sweet time in getting to anything like drama, preferring to let his people gab away for nearly two hours about this and that. (This is a not-unusual feature of Wilson's works; on a good day, it got him compared to Chekhov.) His character portraits are rendered with a great deal of texture, but, when the constantly delayed action finally erupts into open conflict, the result is frantic and unbelievable, a burst of melodrama that comes out of nowhere.

Wilson seems to have been exploring the parameters of the standard dysfunctional family play, self-consciously toying with its conventions to see if it could yield any new insights or feelings. At the time, it must have seemed like an interesting, modernist way of addressing a potentially stale format. Seen today, however, the barrage of direct address and dearth of drama is more than a little wearying.
I was weary just reading it. Watching this on stage must be excruciating - in other words, much like TALLEY'S FOLLY.

And one more thing - the blurb on the back of the version of the play I read says:
...In the end... Alan is driven away once more, embittered by the knowledge that he must live without the father he so desperately wants and needs.
It's an interesting premise, and gave me some hope for this play, but in order to feel Alan's loss it would help if his father wasn't relentlessly portrayed as an asshole from the very beginning of the play. I mean, it's sad his father is an asshole, but since he never knows him any other way, it's not like he has any illusions that he's missing out on knowing a great guy, but now is estranged because he's gay. No, a premise is not a play.

Maybe I'll like BALM IN GILEAD or HOT L BALTIMORE - but at this point I doubt it.