‘Does compassion exist?’

PAD presents Wallace Shawn’s ‘Aunt Dan and Lemon’ April 13-22

Emma Flannery as Lemon. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

“The difference between a perfectly decent person and a monster is just a few thoughts.”
– Wallace Shawn

News is for fools. Kindness is a lie. Killing, to our animal nature, is simply enjoyable.

Lemon has polite manners and ugly ideas. From the comfort of her London flat, she sips juice, ponders Nazis and watches her small inheritance waste inevitably away.

In “Aunt Dan and Lemon,” playwright Wallace Shawn explores the fragility of civilized society, and how easily cultured masks slip in the face of power.

“Unfortunately, the play feels very timely in our current political climate,” said Annamaria Pileggi, professor of practice in drama, who will direct the production April 13-22 for Washington University in St. Louis’ Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences.

“It asks a very simple question,” Pileggi said. “Does compassion exist?”

Emma Flannery as Lemon (left) and Ebby Offord as Aunt Dan. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Vicarious lives

First staged in 1985, “Aunt Dan and Lemon” is the eighth play by the American actor and writer Wallace Shawn, best known for roles in “My Dinner with Andre” (1981), “The Princess Bride” (1987) and the “Toy Story” films.

Much of “Aunt Dan and Lemon” unfolds in flashback. As a girl, Lemon drifts away from her dysfunctional parents, escaping the family home for a small shack in the garden. Her solitude is broken by visits from Aunt Dan (short for Danielle), a garrulous Oxford Don who entertains Lemon with wild tales and blunt opinions.

“Lemon lives vicariously through Aunt Dan’s stories,” Pileggi said. “But the stories Dan chooses to tell are completely inappropriate for an 11-year-old. She talks about sex, she talks about murder, she talks about war.

“Dan is not malevolent in this,” Pileggi said. Amidst the tumult of the Vietnam War, Dan’s ruthless, Kissinger-style realpolitik has caused a rift with Lemon’s mother. “In her loneliness, Dan seeks out a sympathetic ear. And Lemon is ripe for the picking.”

Entertained and excited, young Lemon absorbs Dan’s stories uncritically. Everyone is corrupt. Villages are inevitably bombed. Society is built on a foundation of murder. But as Lemon grows older, her thoughts curdle into shrugging, pitiless cynicism.

“If killing were totally repugnant to animals, they couldn’t survive,” Lemon tells the audience at one point. “So an enjoyment of killing is there inside us. In polite society, people don’t discuss it, but the fact is that it’s enjoyable … ”

“Lemon is a lovely, angelic-seeming figure who becomes a kind of monster,” Pileggi said. “She is filled with brutal ideas, and we see how Dan’s stories have shaped her.

“But Lemon also asks us to reflect: How complicit are we in the systems that maintain our way of life?”

Cast & Crew

The cast of seven features Emma Flannery as Lemon and Ebby Offord as Aunt Dan.  Lemon’s mother and father are played by T.J. Brantley and Victor Mendez, who also appear in other roles. Carly Rosenbaum is Mindy, who features in many of Dan’s stories. Rounding out the cast are Nathan Wetter and Marek Rodriguez as Andy and Raimondo.

Sets and costumes are by Rob Morgan and JC Krajicek. Lighting and sound are by Jeremy Pomerantz and Ben Lewis. Danny Washelesky is assistant director. Stage manager is Mark Fernandez, with assistance from Joshua Sarris. Dramaturg is Nathan Lamp with assistance from Kaia Lyons. Props designer is Emily Frei.


“Aunt Dan and Lemon” begins at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22.

Performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and $10 for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.

For more information, call 314-935-6543.

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