By Em Miller
Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, a recent play by Sam Steiner and directed by Rebecca Rovezzi ’18, contains the most touching and romantic use of Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit song “All Star” that you’ve probably ever seen in any context. In a world where the government has imposed a law limiting the number of words citizens can use in a day, at one point Bernadette (Audrey Erickson ’20) and Oliver (Joe Doino ’18) find themselves at a loss for to what to do with a luxurious 137 out of 140 words each for the rest of the day, and after an awkward stab at seriousness, Oliver bursts into song, and the couple leaps euphorically around the bare thrust stage before they both fall silent, having exhausted their government-mandated supply of speech. Within the context of the relationship at the heart of Steiner’s play, Smash Mouth’s “All Star” is transformed into a heartfelt depiction of how simultaneously difficult and easy it can be to communicate with someone you love.
The play takes place in the period time leading up to and immediately after the passing of a law, known as the “Hush Law” by Oliver and his fellow activists, that limits the amount of words people can use in a day. The reasons for such a law, as well as the details of its enforcement, are not elaborated upon in the text; the emphasis is on the couple struggling to navigate their relationship with only 140 words a day. As is befitting for a contemporary drama, this is explored in non-linear fashion, with short scenes signified by changes in lighting and in the actors’ positions. Lea Tanenbaum ’19, Stage Manager and Lighting Designer, brilliantly executes the dramatic atmospheric changes needed for such fast transitions—a definite success for her self-professed first foray into realism in lighting. The scene transitions also excellently demonstrate the fluidity and physicality the actors developed together. Doino and Erickson alternate stillness and frenetic energy, subtle hints and dramatic gestures, and other forms of non-verbal communication to heighten the impact of their increasingly restricted words.
The bare set especially helped to draw attention to this sense of movement; the only scenic element was a collection of magnetic poetry affixed to a window. Like the non-linear storytelling, this was an aspect of the play that, upon entering the studio, I was not expecting to be used in the way that it was. In the case of the magnetic poetry, sheer practical necessity and the illegibility of the words to most of the seated audience made it so that the actors used the poetry not to communicate but to express raw emotions, both frustration and healing. Structure of the play itself functions in a similiar way; the array of brief, seemingly randomized scenes pulls the audience sharply and almost roughly into the universe of the play, leaving little room for doubt of the premise before the fluctuations of Bernadette and Oliver’s relationship begin to move us. Rebecca calls these short snippets of interaction “moments, not scenes,” demonstrating the significant way in which this play has distanced itself from traditional structures in favor of emotional impact.
Although the play’s focus is clearly on the relationship between the two characters, the politics of the universe take a surprisingly important role in the story. The two even meet as an indirect result of the political climate of the world, at a funeral for a cat accidentally trampled at a protest. It turns out that Bernadette is less politically minded than Oliver in spite of, or, as he suggests in the heat of many arguments, because of her successful career as a lawyer and her working-class background. The piece’s political relevancy makes Lemons stand out as more than a simple relationship study—it brings out the importance of communication in relationships of any kind, which is something that anyone watching the show can relate to, thanks to the nature of our social existence.
Director: Rebecca Rovezzi ’18
Stage Manager/Lighting Design: Lea Tanenbaum ’19
Cast: Joe Doino ’18 (Oliver), Audrey Erickson ’20 (Bernadette)
Em Miller is a sophomore and staff writer for STLN