By Molly Shimko
In “Lemons,” Rebecca Gever explores her mother’s relationship to lupus, and this is where the piece most shines. “Lemons”’ greatest strengths come when Ms. Gever relays her mother’s experiences and musings on her chronic illness in her own words. However, the structure of the piece proves to be a bit more confusing and convoluted than presumably intended.
The play began with a familiar tune, “Getting to Know You” from “The King and I” ‑ a cheeky way for Ms. Gever to introduce herself. As Ms. Gever lip‑synched and trotted back and forth across the stage a bit awkwardly, it was hard to tell whether she was being herself, or putting on an affect. After lip‑synching to the entire song, she paused. What sounded like a home video of a young girl performing the same song played overhead ‑ a clip we would hear at several junctures throughout the show.
Ms. Gever then gave us snapshots of her and her mother’s life. Unfortunately, it was unclear when she was playing which person, and, if it weren’t for the description of the show in the program, one could never be entirely sure whom Ms. Gever was portraying. She never directly addressed the audience, nor identified herself or her invisible scene partner, nor clarified a repeated reference to “the project” (though one could presume it was this show). So, it was a little difficult to discern at any given time who Ms. Gever was, to whom she was talking, and what exactly she was talking about.
The stories themselves were an interesting portrait of a family. Although peppered with a few too many “ums,” “likes” and a hearty helping of nervous energy, the stories captured the humor of life’s memories. A particularly enjoyable anecdote about Ms. Gever trying on her mother’s bras made the audience laugh. The through‑line of the tales, however, did feel somewhat meandering and disconnected. Non‑sequiturs created jumps that felt a little jarring. The stories were occasionally demarcated by an audio clip of the home video and/or Ms. Gever changing her hair in and out of a ponytail. I think I eventually figured out the trick (ponytail meant Ms. Gever, while her hair down signified her mother). But the stories left me wanting to know more, especially about Ms. Gever’s mother. I wished we could’ve gotten a fuller picture of who she was, for context into which to place these stories.
As mentioned, the show shone brightest when tackling chronic illness. Ms. Gever was most confident when speaking about her mother’s experiences, clearly presenting interesting material about living with lupus. She discussed the difference between sympathy, concern, and pity. She ruminated about resenting special treatment as an ill person, and wrestled with the stigma of illness. This presented an engrossing picture of what her mother faced. Particularly affecting were the joy and gratitude Ms. Gever’s mother felt when she was pregnant with her daughter. She felt her body finally functioning properly. The pregnancy alleviated her day‑to‑day, constant anxiety ‑ around whether her organs were operating correctly, or how any given factor might affect her, such as her diet. Her ability to deal with her illness with humor and grace was made clear by such self‑deprecating lines as “My body’s the biggest fuck‑up there is” and “I feel like I got a lemon,” the latter alluding to the title of the show.
Ultimately, while “Lemons” gave a compelling portrait of what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, it left me with more questions than answers. Ms. Gever ended the show by removing a necklace and singing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” I wondered about the significance of the necklace and the song. I was still curious as to whether there was a deeper meaning to “Getting to Know You,” and who the people in the home video were. Yearning for more information and clarity after the show, I silently agreed with an audience member whose comment implied that an earlier version of the show had a more pronounced visual element: “It was a shame they didn’t have the pictures.”
Performed by Rebecca Gever
Directed and Produced by Josh Walker
October 30th at 3:30 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MOLLY SHIMKO is an artist and writer originally from Vermont. After obtaining her MFA in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory, she moved down to Brooklyn, where she currently free-lances as an editor and illustrator, and works for the New York Public Library and The Juilliard School. Most recently, Molly co-wrote and directed The Fling LP, a new musical play, for The New York Theater Festival Summerfest.