“A Twist of Lemmon” is about love, loss and a bond between father and son that was ultimately stronger than the heartbreak and division of the past.
Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, wrote the play detailing their tumultuous and loving relationship. It will be presented Sept. 4-5-6 at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. Shows start at 5 p.m.
For me, Jack Lemmon was an intimate stranger. I only knew him from the movies but, in a way, he seemed like a longtime friend.
We shared a lot of film together while I watched “Some Like It Hot,” “The Apartment” “The Odd Couple,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Save the Tiger” “Grumpy Old Men” and countless of his other movies.
Lemmon was one of those famous distant people who became part of your family. But I didn’t really know Jack Lemmon. All I knew was the actor on screen – the public celebrity.
Now, however, I feel like I know the private Jack Lemmon – the real guy. And I owe this new-found revelation to Chris Lemmon. I saw the play in June in Mount Dora and was moved by its honesty and revelation.
“Everybody knows the public Jack Lemmon,” Chris said this week. “But I want people to know the man that only I saw.”
The younger Lemmon plays his father and details Jack’s life and their relationship. In addition to dialogue, Chris Lemmon wrote a musical score. He provides an inside, funny and painful look at a Hollywood icon. Jack Lemmon, who died in 2001 at 76, won two Academy Awards and remains one of the most popular actors in history.
But the beloved performer had his faults. He divorced his first wife and Chris’ mother, while Chris was a child. There was a long estrangement between father and son. And Jack Lemmon, who brilliantly portrayed an alcoholic in “The Days of Wine and Roses” had a serious drinking problem.
“We’re all human, even celebrities,” Chris Lemmon said. “I loved my father and he was a great guy. But I had a duty in this play to tell his story in an honest way.”
At one point in the play, Chris as Jack Lemmon talks about the relationship with the son he dubbed Hotshot. “I loved the kid,” Jack says on stage. “But I loved acting. Every role is like a kid.”
“He was a wonderful father, but he placed career first,” Chris Lemmon said in the interview.
Fast forward to Jack Lemmon’s final days. Near the end of his life, Jack says on stage to his son: “You’re a father, be there for your children. I’m sorry for the times I wasn’t there for you. But those times we had together were magic.”
Chris Lemmon married actress Gina Raymond, and they have three children: Sydney, Chris and Jonathan.
Chris, 60, appeared in television series’, “Duet,” “Open House” and in the “Thunder in Paradise” films. His movie credits include three with his father: “Airport ’77,” “That’s Life” and “Dad.”
The movie career was taking off when, after marriage and kids, he decided to leave Hollywood and settle in Connecticut. His father wasn’t in favor of the move. “Out of sight, out of mind,” Jack told him, meaning that West Coast casting directors could soon forget him.
But the son was not about to repeat his father’s mistakes.
“I didn’t want my children to see an empty chair at the dinner table,” Chris said in the interview. “He left me because his career came first. I wasn’t going to do that.”
Ultimately, “A Twist of Lemmon” is about a father and son’s reconciliation. Chris used the same title for a 2006 book he wrote about his father. On stage, their story comes to life in a poignant, theatrical way that captures the essence of Jack Lemmon’s acting style.
“He had enormous pathos, he wanted to intertwine, seamlessly, comedy and drama,” Chris said. He added that his father admired a French actor named Jean-Louis Barrault, who, it was written, could make people laugh and break their hearts at the same time.
That seems to describe the relationship between the man Chris called “Pops” and the kid Jack called “Hotshot.”
It’s difficult to tell that story in 90 minutes on stage but Chris Lemmon meets that task. Chris has mastered his father’s heckling laugh and herky-jerky body movements along with Jack’s devilishly, whimsical facial contortions and giddy laugh.
But it’s not the physical side of Jack Lemmon that comes through in the play. It’s the inner man and what he meant to his son. For the younger Lemmon, it’s a way to relive the past and confront the present.
“It takes a lot out of me,” Chris said. “It’s a very physical performance and an emotional one. But it puts a lot back into me, too. I adored my father and I miss him so much. For 90 minutes every night, I get to be with him again.”
And what about forgiveness?
“We were a father and son who were ripped apart,” Chris said. “It’s a deeply tragic story, but then we found each other again. It was our choice to come back together – in the end, the very best of friends against all odds.”