A troubled examination of the language of love when placed at its Orwellian limits.
If you think Twitter’s original 140 character limit was extreme, imagine a world where that was applied to real life, and each person allowed only to speak 140 words per day. That’s the premise of Sam Steiner’s debut play Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, serving as the virgin production of director/producer duo Adeeb & Shai (Adeeb Fazah and Mohamad ‘Shai’ Shaifulbahri).
First premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, Lemons is a minimalist two-hander play following young couple Bernadette (Tia Guttensohn) and Oliver (Jamil Schulze) as they navigate the usual troubles of any new relationship, paired with the new normal of the aforementioned Hush Law. Because of its unique premise, what would normally make for a simple look at young love goes above and beyond that, as it explores the complexities of language and communication, examining the way authorities limit speech and how speech itself limits us.
Let’s get things straight: Lemons is an extremely challenging script, and as experienced as both Adeeb and Shai are, it’s a play that makes for a difficult first piece. As a play so concerned with words, its language and quantity of words is so precise that it disallows its cast from making any slip ups with their lines, while as a two-hander play, both actors are required to be onstage for the entirety of its one hour runtime, necessitating a pair of actors who can maintain both a keen sense of chemistry and energy to last the run. Being two young actors relatively new to the scene, Tia and Jamil are the right age to play a believable enough couple, however, their lack of experience often leaves their onstage relationship feeling uncertain and exploratory, even outside of scenes in which they’re fighting, leaving the emotional aspects of the script a little on the hollow side
Individually however, Tia brings a unique quirkiness to her portrayal of Bernadette, able to balance the lawyer-in-training’s innate seriousness with a relatable awkward-cute tinge in her social interactions. Meanwhile Jamil’s almost constant optimism and abundant energy complements his character as a charming musician turned activist, but creates an air of insincerity around his character, making it difficult to truly invest emotionally in him, at least, until his smile finally falls and he showcases genuine disappointment in his voice.
Perhaps the difficulty of following their journey as a couple is complicated by Lemons’ unusual structure. Using a non-linear timeline acts as a double-edged sword for Lemons, making it hard for both audience and actors to capture and follow each snap change in time as scenes shift to different stages in the couple’s relationship, both before and after the implementation of the Hush Law. There are times one feels a sense of theatrical whiplash as we jump from tense fight scenes to saccharine meet-cute, making the relationship’s buildup feel abrupt and uneven, and ultimately somewhat unsatisfactory in its inconclusive ending.
However, Lemons’ message and meaning necessitates its structure, allowing audiences to compare and contrast the difference in the couple’s communication style with the Hush Law. If anything, one feels as if the Hush Law makes the the strength of the couple’s relationship more evident than ever before, as Bernadette and Oliver manage to communicate in new and inventive ways that at times, don’t even require words.
Lemons works especially well in these post Hush Law scenes, as the strength of both Tia and Jamil’s range is seen in their expressions and physicality without words, particularly in a scene where the couple is watching the results of the Hush Law on television, their pained, multi-layered expressions sending a palpable chill down audiences’ spines, a stark reminder of the same horror felt by countless viewers around the world in the aftermath of Brexit and the recent US Presidential elections.
Lemons presents a refreshingly original script with a smart premise offering plenty of food for thought on the nature of language and free speech, though perhaps inherently problematic and difficult to saddle a pair of young actors with, making it a challenging first production for Adeeb & Shai. Ultimately though, if you can push past its initial flaws, Lemons is less emotional pulp than it is intellectual zest, eventually unveiling itself to possess a highly relevant story and being a keen thought experiment that will make you think twice before you next open your mouth to speak.
Photo Credit: Adeeb & Shai
Performance attended 4/4/18
Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons plays at the Aliwal Arts Centre Multi-purpose Hall from 4th – 7th April. Tickets available here