"Lemon Sky" is Lanford Wilson's Southern California play, but it has seldom been seen here--or anywhere, for that matter--since its 1970 premiere. So the staging of it for tonight's "American Playhouse" (Channels 28 and 15 at 9 p.m.) is a rare opportunity to see how Wilson saw us.
Judging from this production, directed by Jan Egleson and photographed by James Glennon inside a Boston studio, Wilson saw us in vivid picture-postcard hues. But though the light prettifies and disguises what's happening below the surface of this El Cajon family, the family secrets finally burst out in a cathartic explosion.
The light is indicative of the time as well as the place. The play makes dozens of quick shifts between 1970 and 1957, which is when 17-year-old Alan (Kevin Bacon) went to live with his father (Tom Atkins) and stepmother (Lindsay Crouse). The 1970 scenes are set in a dark bar, but the 1957 scenes are flooded with bright pinks and blues.
The costumes also reflect the time shifts. Out-of-sequence shooting allows for more costume changes than could occur on stage.
The admittedly autobiographical story of "Lemon Sky" isn't unusual, to anyone who has seen a lot of American family plays and movies. But Wilson's dialogue keeps us listening (though a few of Wilson's more pointed references to California have been cut or replaced by visual substitutes), and the tender performances of Bacon, Crouse and Laura White (as one of Alan's foster sisters) keep us watching.
Pat Metheny contributed a jazzy, evocative score, with Jack De Johnette on drums.