What `nice' people talk about in the family garden Aunt Dan and Lemon Play by Wallace Shawn. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Wallace Shawn's ``Aunt Dan and Lemon'' is not so much a play in the conventional sense as an assortment of filtered memories. The recollections and reflections emerge from two perspectives. The first belongs to the sickly Leonora (nicknamed Lemon), who serves as narrator-commentator. The second belongs to Aunt Dan (for Danielle), the other principal figure in Mr. Shawn's time mirror. The author introduces his dialogues and lengthy recitals with a prologue in which Lemon (Kathryn Pogson), now a young adult, begins recalling the once-close bond between her parents and the remarkable American academic she knew affectionately as ``Aunt Dan'' (Linda Hunt). At the time of Aunt Dan's death, only she and Lemon are preserving the remnants of the former happy relationship. Meanwhile, the marriage of Lemon's Anglophile American father and her English mother has soured.

The intermissionless two-hour-plus exercise features a pair of verbal flights. Over tea in the family garden, Aunt Dan delivers a paean to Henry Kissinger, in the course of which she tells Lemon's mother: ``Other people use force so that people like us can sit in this garden and be nice.'' Amusing as some of Shawn's implicit ironies are, the marathon speech challenges the stamina of the ever-resourceful Miss Hunt and the attention span of the spectator. Brevity is not the soul of Shawn's wit.

In the second such extended discourse, which is also the play's finale, Lemon becomes an apologist for Hitlerian master-race theories, analyzing Nazi crimes from a fascist point of view. Disarmingly plausible though she attempts to be, Miss Pogson's Lemon cannot get away with the twisted rationale. But having an apparently ``nice'' person mouth such repugnant views produces Shawn's intended shock effect.

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The only dramatic action in ``Aunt Dan and Lemon'' punctuates an explicitly erotic episode. The scene ends with a murder committed by a prostitute (Lynsey Baxter) who, as another character observes, will do anything for money. The extraneous killing climaxes the most sensational of the adventures with which Aunt Dan regales the wide-eyed Lemon.

The joint production by the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Court Theatre of London has been directed by the Royal Court's Max Stafford-Clark for all of its intended subtleties and emotional tensions.

The Anglo-American cast, several of whose members play multiple roles, includes Mr. Shawn, Linda Bassett, Larry Pine, and Mario Arrambide as the murder victim.

The London interiors and attractive environment of garden greenery have been designed by Peter Hartwell and lighted to suit the occasion by Christopher Toulmin and Gerard P. Bourcier. Jennifer Cook designed the costumes. ``Aunt Dan and Lemon'' is scheduled to run at Public/Martinson Hall at least through Nov. 30.

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