If you ever want to sober up from an acid trip, Lemon Andersen recommends getting chewed out by your girlfriend's mother. If you're carrying a concealed gun and your trip is of the Papa Smurf variety, well, so much the better. Andersen knows this from personal experience, a story he relates in a narrative mashup of hip-hop-suffused rhythm, rhyme, and true crime neatly woven together with a physical performance that's equal parts modern dance, sashay, electric slide, and swagger.
At the Emmett Robinson Theatre for last night's premiere, Andersen — or Andy as he refers to himself in his lyrical 80-minute biography — inhabited not only his own youthful Puerto Rican self growing up in a fatherless Queens, N.Y. apartment with a heroin junkie mother who contracts HIV, but the whole neighborhood as well, which ultimately includes his pals at Rikers Island, where he was incarcerated for stealing cars and selling drugs. This cast includes his mother Millie, his car-stealing stepfather Charo, his one-eyed neighbor Miss Judy, Grandma Mammi, an instructor at Feld Ballet School, his girlfriend Lillie who loses her virginity to him (in a funny, poignantly rendered re-enactment), and at one point, God, who is revealed to be a spiteful, foul-mouthed Puerto Rican who delights in torturing His creations with fun little plagues like poverty, drugs, AIDS, and Chuck-E-Cheese.
Andersen flows around like stage like mercury, graceful as a cat, slipping into and out of characters from his life, his story a kinetic, balletic narrative that, line by lovingly crafted line, peels back the brittle external carapace of his youthful circumstances to reveal a very human heart, one that worships Andy Gibb as "the hippest white man in the world," and exults in Soul Train and American Bandstand.
It's hard not to make comparisons to hip-hop performance artist and character actor Danny Hoch, who was here in 2006. But Anderson's eye is focused inward rather than out upon the world, and his technique is more about poetry than portraiture.
Following his release from prison, Andersen happens on a poetry slam which hits him like a revelation: "All this rhythm and rhyme without a single breakbeat to use as an audible." Andersen's life here does have a soundtrack, which includes as much disco , Bee-Gees, and "Ring My Bell" as it does hip-hop, but the breakbeat is all his own.