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Aunt Dan and Lemon

Torn Space's Aunt Dan and Lemon continues through April 10. (photo by Lukia Costello)

The current production of Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon at Torn Space is taut and disturbing—and absolutely riveting. Here Lemon, played with unruffled tranquility by Kristin Bentley, tells us the story of the summer when she was 11 years old. During that remote summer, her Aunt Dan, in a charismatic performance by Kristin Tripp Kelley, fills her mind with dubious philosophies and enthralls her with seductive narratives, entirely inappropriate for an 11-year-old. The experience will sway the direction of her entire life.

Aunt Dan is a proponent of state imposed violence as the means by which civilization is kept together. Her nearly erotic infatuation with Henry Kissinger turns out to be a tell-tale stop on a harrowing journey—a fact that Lemon’s mother deduces, alas too late. On the one hand, Aunt Dan prides herself on being politically unsophisticated. On the other, she projects self-confidence about her harsh opinions that borders on the smug. At the same time, this woman who refuses introspection, gleefully tells an eleven-year-old tales of sexual promiscuity, deception, and murder. It is not difficult to see the direct lines from these stories to Lemon as a grown woman who admires the Nazis, takes pride in her lack of intellectual sophistication, but nonetheless expresses her unsympathetic and ruthless world views with terrifying smugness.

As much as providing a treatise in how we are influenced to adopt repressive ideas, Aunt Dan and Lemon is a study in the seductive nature of narrative itself. As Lemon recounts the stories she has lived or was told in her youth, through the magic of theater, the characters in these tales spring to life on the deep expanse of a haunting and versatile set by Greg Faust. These disquieting stories are enacted with disturbing precision and enthusiasm by Dave Lundy as Lemon’s father among other troubled and unbalanced characters; Andrew Kottler as Andy and Marty, two marginal and arguably unsavory men from Aunt Dan’s past; Kelly Meg Brennan as Lemon’s brilliant and moral but ultimately ineffectual mother; Adrienne Lewis as the beautiful and immoral “Mindy,” and object of improbable admiration in Aunt Dan’s world; and Greg Howze as the rapacious but dupable Raimondo.

The talented cast evokes Aunt Dan’s stories, as retold by Lemon, with the vividness of childhood memories. The effect is upsetting and irresistible. Erin Bahn’s costumes, Jon Shotwell’s sound design, and Patty Rihn’s lighting design contribute to the vibrancy of the disquieting impact.

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