Brynn Alexander and Philip Asta ace two of the year’s most uniquely demanding roles, aided and abetted by Cricket S. Myers’ and Matt Richter’s spectacularly detailed sound and lighting designs, in the United States Premiere of Sam Steiner’s Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons. If only Steiner’s vision of a dystopian future in which speech is limited to a hundred-forty words a day didn’t defy credibility and logic at every turn.

 Musician Oliver and divorce-lawyer-in-training Bernadette meet cute at a funeral for a cat named Dennis, keep on rendez-vousing at the same pet cemetery, and before long the young couple have fallen in love, though mentions of a certain “hush law” or of a friend who’s “pro-word limit” signal clouds on the horizon as scenes alternate rapidly between the early stages of their relationship and those that have them attempting intelligent communication in one, two, or three-word sentences.

 Along the way, the couple debate whether the bill being considered in congress is censorship or not. (Oliver asserts that it is, Bernadette that it’s not, that “you can say anything you like, just concisely.”) Oliver insists they’re “banning democracy,” Bernadette maintains that “they’re not banning anything.” Oliver maintains the law is elitist because the working classes need words the most. Bernadette says the law has been “really good in Norway.”

As for why the U.S. government is even considering such a bizarre measure, about the best playwright Steiner can give us is Oliver’s “They want us quiet. Hushed.”

 In other words, anyone curious about how the U.S. government is selling this proposed new law or why our elected representatives are apparently buying into it will have to figure it out for themselves, just one reason Steiner’s intriguing premise doesn’t pay off.

And it’s not just credibility that goes out the door. Logic does too, and in a big way.

 We’re told that an individual can speak only a hundred-forty words a day, and Oliver and Bernadette struggle to do just that, but is writing forbidden as well? The word-limited lovers never take out pencil or paper, let alone electronic devices that may or may not be allowed in a world where texting has already virtually erased the need for spoken language.

What about sign language? Oliver and Bernadette hardly even try to communicate with their hands or with body language.

Are people allowed to mouth words and lip-read? Your guess is as good as mine.

Morse Code apparently is allowed, but Oliver and Bernadette only make a half-hearted effort at it.

And how exactly is the government keeping track of the spoken-word limit and preventing people from exceeding it? Video surveillance? Body implants? Some state-of-the-art technology combining both?

For Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons to work as a piece of writing, these questions need at the very least to be asked, and Steiner doesn’t even do that, let alone provide answers.

Fortunately, this U.S. Premiere does work as a piece of theater thanks to its pair of up-and-coming stars, Jen Bloom’s dynamic direction, and two of L.A.’s most brilliant designers working as one.

 Alexander and Asta not only give us the attractive, intelligent young couple from first attraction to first declarations of love to first quarrels to the realization that their lives are about to face radical change, they do so with word-perfect precision (a must given the extreme complexity of Myers’ and Richter’s sound and lighting), a constant awareness of where each is in a relationship that bounces back and forth between two and five years into the future, and the need to navigate each and every inch of scenic designer Leslie K. Gray’s spiffy apartment-and-beyond set while executing frequent onstage costume changes, design kudos to Jessica J’aime.

Sound designer Myers and lighting designer Richter collaborate seamlessly, the former’s door-slam-like jolts accompanying the latter’s color switches as near and not-so-near future zigzag, often within seconds of each other, and Myers underscores post-hush law scenes with a steady, ominous hum that makes it clear in an instant that the rules have changed.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is produced by Kristin Boulé and Jon Tosetti. Nick Foran is stage manager. Juan Lozano is technical director. J’aime and Tosetti are understudies.

As a 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival entry, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons may have been provocative enough to escape the close scrutiny a longer professional run would inspire. Provocative it still is, and sensationally acted and designed, but a less muddled script is needed to turn these Lemons into lemonade.

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Hudson Guild Theatre , 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 14, 2018
Photos: Daniel J. Sliwa


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