Sex, politics and murder: ‘Aunt Dan and Lemon’
A timely production in the age of Trump, Wallace Shawn’s “Aunt Dan and Lemon” explores how societies methodically, almost unknowingly, slip into modes of thinking that make space in the public conscience for grand atrocities, serving as a cautionary tale against fascism.
The show opens with a characteristically, yet ironically cheerful, monologue from our sickly protagonist, Lemon. She breaks the fourth wall, welcoming the audience to her home—one which is quite reminiscent of a dollhouse—and hints at the course of the show, which is structured as a series of flashbacks.
Her opening monologue introduces the audience to her fascination with Nazism and love for her Aunt Dan, a late friend of her miserably married and now dead parents. When Lemon was 11 years old, Aunt Dan spent the summer with her family, with nightly visits to her bedroom for indulgent stories about—you guessed it—sex, politics and murder.
The show begins with typical, rather ordinary scenes depicting the typical, yet damaged, daily life of Lemon and her family. They eat dinner. Lemon suffers from an eating disorder which tears her parents’ already failing marriage further apart. They play games. The entire bunch slowly loses interest in games as each becomes more obsessed with their respective polarized ideologies. Aunt Dan loves Kissinger. Lemon’s mother hates Kissinger. Lemon’s father, a business-loving utilitarian cares only of making money. Are the numbers up, or are they down? Is his product succeeding or failing?
The original, traditional structure devolves into a series of hedonistic monologues from Aunt Dan railing on and on with her Henry Kissinger obsession, only to be interrupted by dissent from Lemon’s mother, childlike interjections of approval from Lemon or bizarre scenes crafted by the expectedly fantastical collaboration between Lemon’s memory and Dan’s storytelling.
But all of these seemingly incongruent components come together to conjecture that sheer individualism is dangerous and can eventually be the little drop of poison that leads to a compassionless, even ruthless societal structure.
If at any point in the duration of the show you find yourself nodding along to Lemon’s or Dan’s ridiculously amoral, self-indulgent monologues, you probably watched the show incorrectly—unless you resigned long ago to being a Nazi-apologist—and should definitely try to keep your views on fascism to yourself.
The show ends with a monologue from Lemon that reveals how everything she shared in flashback up to this point led to her adopting fascist ideology. She celebrates Nazism in her final moments on stage, praising its straightforwardness and willingness to kill in pursuit of an ideal way of life. Sickly, Nazi-loving Lemon finds this attitude “refreshing,” rejecting notions of compassion as unreal. The audience is left with distaste and on the hunt for tangible notions of compassion and assuredness in a greater societal rejection of fascism.