Ralph Lemon’s new work, HOW CAN YOU STAY IN THE HOUSE ALL DAY AND NOT GO ANYWHERE? is an example of why I love live theater. Or live dance. Or live theatrical dance. His work is difficult to categorize which makes me enjoy it even more. He does not take anything for granted and is forever questioning and exploring.
The first part of this piece, The Sunshine Room, finds Lemon sitting in front of a microphone on one side and a huge screen on the other. As he reads a personal narrative, clips from Ozu’s Late Spring and Tarkovsky’s Solaris intermingle with clips of Lemon’s inspirational “teacher and playmate”, 102-year-old former sharecropper, Walter Carter. Lemon speaks of losing his beloved partner, Asako, after an illness that was so exhausting she would fall asleep only minutes into watching a film. This kept her from seeing all of Solaris, for example. She was asleep by the time Kris Kelvin arrived on Solaris only to find a doppelganger of his dead wife, Hari. She missed the dance of grief and bewilderment Kelvin finds himself in as he loves, desires and eventually destroys the hallucination, only to have it return again and again. What is grief? What is loss? What is memory?
As the clips from Ozu play, Lemon gently ponders the meaning of accepting life’s inevitabilities. The clips of Walter Carter show him getting into some sort of make shift spaceship and, later, dancing with his 80 year old partner. What is love? How does time affect love? What is memory of love? As these old people lovingly dance together, Lemon notes that Walter will forget that this even happened within the hour. Kris Kelvin had forgotten certain things about Hari, had made things up about her in her absence. I thought, how does Ralph Lemon remember Asako? Does his memory of her change? Has he already forgotten certain things about her? During this monologue, Lemon references a past work he had made with the same collaborators and that this work was so frustrating for them that they refused to speak with him for four years. Yet here they all were again, attacking the work, work that sounded similar to the work that had frustrated them so profoundly the first time.
The program notes, in a recent article in the Huffington Post, Lemon had posed the question, “How do you watch something kind of unwatchable? How do you hear something unlistenable?” He may have added for his collaborators’ sake, “How do you dance something undanceable?” Rumor had it that every night there would be people unable to sit though the entire piece. One spot in particular had been excruciating to some. For me, however, and for the rest of the opening night Seattle audience, it was not excruciating, or unwatchable (at least, no one in the audience got up and left). Perhaps a Seattle audience is more comfortable with unanswered questions, continued grappling, chasing, looking, and not necessarily finding. Perhaps we embrace Lemon and his work because we are hungry for an artist “unafraid to be unfashionable” or one who doesn’t provide answers to profound questions. What is strange about this piece is that as pretentious as a description may sound, I found it supremely unpretentious: stripped down and honest. I found the artists to be completely committed and in the moment in a tender way. And I found Ralph Lemon himself to be truthful, modest, strong, vulnerable and bare. He is giving a workshop (affordable!) at noon on Saturday, and I am dismayed that I won’t be able to attend.