Virtual Program Notes…reflections from a dramaturg

Wallace Shawn wrote Aunt Dan and Lemon in a wave of time periods. Rather than describe each time period we drift through them as one sifting through dripping laundry. The memories are not ours to begin with but they become ours simply by listening. He asks us to ponder the effects of others’ memories on our view of the world, on the shaping of our morals, and consequently the substance of our theories and arguments.

 How do we build arguments, theories, and morals?

In Aunt Dan and Lemon, education, the mix of other people’s arguments, observations and memories, provides the toolbox for such construction. We have the chance to observe this collection of memories through Lemon, and understand how they work together to build her perception of the world.

How did Wallace Shawn build this play?

Shawn wrote Aunt Dan and Lemon in the 1980’s, in a world stretched taut by the Cold War. He may have been reflecting on the negotiations of such controversial leaders as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Or the discovery of a hole in the Ozone above Antarctica, or John Lennon being shot dead, or AIDS, or the Iran hostage crisis, or Madonna going on tour, or the USSR invading Afghanistan and the American government supporting the Taliban.

But Shawn does not mention the 1980’s. He looks back in time through each character to assemble the world of the play. This gives the audience a direct connection to Lemon’s stories while silently reflecting on the current state of the world.

Sifting through time…

We hear about Henry Kissinger, National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under President Nixon during the Vietnam War. But we do not see the footage of soldiers dying and killing, torching huts, or crying over a lost friend. Instead we are asked to examine the morals of Kissinger. And wonder how he builds his arguments.

Shawn does not mention that Kissinger grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in a small city called Furht in the Bavarian region of Germany and that he left with his family in 1938. Yet when asked about his family history Kissinger has boldly stated that his background has had no effect on his political decisions.

We watch Lemon build her arguments from other people’s stories and memories until she has a solid theory that she believes to be true. You might ask yourself how Lemon can see the world the way she does, and yet if we look at each character, including Kissinger, we begin to see the transgenerational histories and traumas that affect their opinions and actions. We sift between fragments of memories as Mindy and Dan and Lemon’s stories become our own to retell. As we travel in the world of the 1960’s, war rages in Vietnam, Henry Kissinger negotiates, and Lemon turns 11 years old.

Each night the audience will be invited into the memories of memories of memories. How are these moments linked, how do they build upon one another and reflect each other and how will they affect our own education?

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