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Lemon Sky

Keith Nobbs does extraordinary work in the Keen Company's emotionally pungent production of Lanford Wilson's autobiographical play.

Keith Nobbs and Kevin Kilner in Lemon Sky
(© Richard Termine)
Lanford Wilson offers up a pungent portrait of a 17-year-old's attempts to reconnect with his father in his highly theatrical 1970 play Lemon Sky, now being presented by the Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. The production, directed with precision by Jonathan Silverstein, boasts a host of exceptional performances and manages to deliver a considerable emotional punch.

Alan (Keith Nobbs) narrates the story of his tumultuous time in California (scenic designer Bill Clarke provides the retro environment that's lit with care by Josh Bradford) with his long-estranged dad Douglas (Kevin Kilner), stepmom Ronnie (Kellie Overbey) and preteen half brothers (superlative turns from youngsters Logan Riley Bruner and Zachary Mackiewicz), reflecting on the time from a distance of 12 years.

As the action of the past unfolds, Alan -- as well as the other characters, which also include two troubled teen girls, living as foster kids with the family, Penny (Amie Tedesco) and Carol (Alyssa May Gold) -- often breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience and offering up perspectives on the events that can only come from hindsight. The blur of past and present, which often comes at a dizzying pace, may have once seemed to be avant- garde. Today, it's occasionally intriguing and sometimes slightly cloying, but never enough to diminish the work of the estimable ensemble.

The extraordinary Nobbs glides in and out of the skin of the character at two vastly distinct ages with astonishing ease, changing not only vocal quality and physicality, seemingly adding or shedding years as needed. He also deftly conveys the character's complex emotional differences as he shifts from the somewhat innocent Alan to the sadder and more jaded man the teenager becomes.

Kilner turns in a ferociously committed performance, which initially captures all of the man's eagerness to ingratiate himself with the boy he abandoned in Nebraska at five, and later courses with anger as Douglas senses that his son is not living up to his expectations. Overbey's work as Ronnie simply bursts with a sunniness that's tempered by a certain haunted sadness, which might have something to do with the guilt she feels about her relationship with Douglas beginning while he was still married to Alan's mother.

Tedesco finds depths of emotion and wisdom in the painfully shy Penny, and sparks with just the right amount of passion when Penny finds herself betrayed by the family that's taken her in. Gold uncovers ways to make Carol's hardness or precocious vampy sexuality uncomfortably sad, and proves particularly touching as Carol, like Alan, describes her future after she has moved on from the family.