Citizen Staff Writer
The irony is intense in Live Theatre Workshop’s gripping production of “Lemon Sky,” a play that seems more prescient now than when Lanford Wilson wrote it in 1970. Glen Coffman as director gives all the nuance a razor’s edge.
These days, we believe without exception: that inside every obedient housewife there was a stunted female screaming to get out; that every teenager of the early 1960s was a ticking time bomb of rebellion; and every authoritarian middle-aged white father who thought he knew best was about to be told differently.
Not that society is any better off today. It just seems like the cultural pressure cooker of conservative values in the 1950s was hissing and shaking, making so much noise we should have known the big blow was coming.
Sort of like how we should have known last year that the economy was going to collapse this year.
The first act of “Lemon Sky” sets up the scene, re-creating a happily positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale-reading, Dr. George W. Crane-believing, Dale Carnegie-inspired 1950s suburban family in southern California riding the crest of a booming postwar economy.
Subdivisions were filling up the farm land just outside San Diego. Everybody lived in a new house. Americans were winners and the whole world knew it.
But even in Act 1, cracks were beginning to appear in this smiley-face facade. Now that the world was made safe for democracy, everyone wanted more freedom.
So divorce was becoming more common. A lot of those second-marriage families were setting up housekeeping out in the freshly minted ‘burbs.
Christopher Johnson with a shiny 1950s haircut and a nice touch of innocence plays 17-year-old Alan, who occasionally steps outside the scene to tell the audience about his dad, Doug, getting a new wife in Nebraska and moving to one of those tract homes near San Diego.
As the play set in 1959 opens, Alan hasn’t seen his dad for 12 years, but is moving in to stay. Doug (Roger Owen) and Doug’s new wife, Ronnie (Kristi Loera), are a bubbly couple with two young boys, Jack (Ryan Callie) and Jerry (Cole Gregory). The family has also taken in two teen foster children, Carol (Allegra Breedlove) and Penny (Marina Jarrette).
Carol is a flirty 17-year-old, either promiscuous or adventurous, depending on your personal values. She also pops a lot of pills for her anxiety.
Penny is a few years younger, and holds the honored family place as Daddy’s darling. He is teaching Penny all about photography, the science of developing film and the art of making prints.
As Doug, this is Owen’s strongest performance yet. Tall and broad-shouldered, he portrays the disciplined father as a positive guy who believes in a hard-line approach. These days, he would be applauded for his military insistence on law and order.
Owen does a fascinating job depicting the collapse of a man committed to this rigid way of life, even as human nature wins the struggle to maintain all those idealistic values.
Loera also displays a finer appreciation for subtle expressions. We see her outside appearance as the proper housewife who dresses extra-nice to fix dinner while waiting for Doug to get home from work.
But we can also feel her frustration at being helpless to deflect the train wreck momentum of Doug’s life. As with any train wreck, most of the casualties are innocent bystanders.
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Lemon Sky” by Lanford Wilson
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through May 31
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Info: 327-4242, livetheatreworkshop.org