Lemon Andersen
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Lemon Andersen

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The best kept secret in music


""Lemon Andersen lovingly shares his Beautiful Struggle""

In the one-man poetry memoir County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle, Lemon Andersen plays himself. And he plays his mother. And he plays his brother, his step-father, his neighbors, his teenage girlfriend, his prison boot camp commander, his cellmate, and even God. For someone who, technically, is not an actor — at least, that's not how his career started — Andersen is a gifted actor.

In the hour-plus long show, Andersen, dressed like he came right off of any urban street, serves as the storyteller of his own story. He starts with his Tony Award win; then, detail by detail, we learn how his life led to that moment. Instead of being completely straight-forward, he adeptly pops into a new character with a new personality, or breaks into a fresh, distinctive poem. His literary talents serve him well as he describes tiny details about a hip pair of jeans or the injuries of a convict. He flows back and forth with such speed that the audience, luckily, has to keep up with his pace.

Andersen shines when he's embodying the multiple characters, and when he's reciting one of his poems, like an early one about the emergence of AIDS. When he's 10, you understand his innocence. He looks up to his parents, not yet understanding how damaging their vices can be. But then we see him as a teenager, and how the loss of the people he loved hardened him. How that led to a year in jail — which, for all its difficulty, led to his discovery of poetry. In a way, this performance felt like tribute to Andersen's mother. She is the most central character besides the star himself, and he does his best to make her proud.

When we interviewed Andersen about his show before the festival started, he said he wanted to break stereotypes that the audience may have had about someone with his kind of upbringing. And that's exactly what he did, in an unexpected way. While, yes, it was surprising to hear just how much he loved American Bandstand, it's Andersen's genuine nostalgia of his difficult formative years that was the most touching. Even though his mother ODs, his stepdad gets arrested, and both of them die of AIDS, there isn't a single moment when you don't believe just how much he loved his parents, and his brother and grandmother. In the typical hard-luck story, we never get to see this kind of mutual adoration, and what happens when it's gone.

My only criticism: I wished that I felt more personally engaged. Andersen was telling us a story — his story — but I didn't feel like he was reaching out to me. This could be the fault of the venue, and that my seat was lower than the star's eye level, but this is the only area where Andersen may have been lacking. Still, when he burst into a new character, or broke into a new poem, it was something I could overlook.

County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle. $32. Sat., May 28, 7 p.m., Sun., May 29, 7 p.m., and Mon., May 30, 7 p.m. Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts. 54 St. Philip St. (843) 722-2764

Tags: Spoleto, Lemon Anderson, Spoleto Review - Charleston City Paper

""County of Kings at the Public Theatre""

Off-Broadway Review
County of Kings

By Andy Propst | Posted Oct. 12, 2009, 6:18 p.m.

This is Back Stage's review of the show's original run at the Public Theater this past January.

Lemon Andersen's one-man show County of Kings: The Beautiful Struggle begins with a moment of jubilation as he recalls the night that he and his castmates won the Tony Award for their work in Def Poetry Jam. His excitement and coolly comic nonchalance captivate instantly, and his grip on theatregoers continues for nearly two hours in this lyrically moving piece that recounts his childhood and young adulthood in Brooklyn.

Anderson's narrative—a mix of hip-hop and poetic prose, English, and occasionally Spanish—is neither sentimental nor angry. Instead, it's a heartfelt and honest recounting of growing up with his heroin-addicted mother, her painful decline and eventual death. As he tells his story, he not only infuses it with humor, he also becomes, with precision and specificity, a number of other characters. Perhaps most amusing is his portrayal of a partially blind busybody woman in the apartment complex where he grew up.

Not everything in Lemon's biography is grim. His recounting of a teenage romance charms thoroughly, even if it is set against the harsh realities of his youthful existence, and when his tale turns to drug dealing and prison, he finds comedy in unlikely places and never succumbs to maudlin self-pity or self-aggrandizement.

Elise Thoron, who's also credited with developing it, has directed County of Kings with a sure hand on a nearly bare stage (designers Douglas Stein and Peter Ksander provide a striking abstract painting as a focal point), and the production elegantly builds to the moment when Andersen is poised to explore his ability to not only write poetry but also perform. The stakes are high, and even though audiences know that Lemon will ultimately succeed, they should not be surprised if they find themselves holding their breaths and silently cheering this winning young man on to his initial success.

Presented by Spike Lee, Culture Project, Steve Colman, Jayson Jackson, and Tom Wirtshafter in association with the Public Theater at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., NYC. Oct. 12–Nov. 8. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Tue., Oct. 13.) (212) 967-7555 or www.publictheater.org. - Lemon Andersen's "County of Kings" reviewed in Backstage

"When Life Names You Lemon..."

When Life Names You Lemon ...

Published: September 24, 2009
ONE September morning Lemon Andersen, a 34-year-old poet and actor, returned to the Brooklyn housing complex where he grew up in a close-knit Puerto Rican community ravaged by drugs and disease. He does not really like to go back there, he said, but it behooves him now that he is a professional memoirist with a one-man show, “County of Kings,” starting a six-week run at the Public Theater on Tuesday.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
The poet and actor Lemon Andersen in the Brooklyn housing complex where he grew up.
Arts, Briefly: Spike Lee Will Go to the Public Theater (September 3, 2009)

Theater Reviews | Under the Radar Festival: In Festival, Biography, Beckett and Blues (January 14, 2009)

More on the Documentary 'Lemon' (Dandelion-Films.com)
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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Lemon Andersen in “County of Kings” at the Under the Radar festival. "County of Kings" begins previews at the Public Theater on Tuesday. The show is produced by Spike Lee, the Culture Project, Steve Coleman and Jayson Jackson in association with the theater.
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Family Photograph
Mr. Andersen, left, with his mother, Millie, and older brother Peter Quiñones.
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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The cast of “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway” in 2002.
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The flier for LemonAid, a benefit to raise legal fees for Mr. Andersen.
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Lemon Andersen at an AIDS workshop for Teatro El Puente in 1999.

And so, loose-limbed and fleet-footed, Mr. Andersen dutifully pointed out the highlights of his personal low points: the gated doorway where he used to sell crack, the fifth-floor apartment where his mother wasted away from AIDS. Then, pivoting away from the past, he settled onto a stoop, lifted his chin and quietly, playfully, began spitting Elizabethan verse: “Oh mistress mine! Where are you roaming?”

It was surely the first time the clown’s song from “Twelfth Night had been recited in that courtyard by any alumnus much less by an ex-convict with a shared Tony award (for "Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway").

“Me and the Courtyard have a lot in common,” Mr. Andersen said later, using the nickname for the complex. “We have both evolved. The Courtyard used to be a hellhole, and I was a part of that. Now there are gardens. The graffiti is gone. It’s secure. And I am too. Times have changed. It’s not so bad to be there, and it’s not so bad to be me.”

Mr. Andersen, who comes across as both disarmingly vulnerable and fiercely driven, said he never intended to write about himself. “I didn’t want to give myself too much props,” he said. “Everybody has a struggle of some sort.” But people were always so compelled by his story that he relented, and the result — “County of Kings,” presented by Spike Lee, one of his many mentors and one of the show’s many producers — represents a milestone for Mr. Andersen. “A run at the Public legitimizes you,” he said, “and I always wanted to be legitimate.”

The Courtyard did not portend a future on the stage for Mr. Andersen, the child of heroin addicts who lost his parents to AIDS, dropped out of high school and spent a few years going in and out jail.

But at 20 Mr. Andersen stumbled into a poetry reading in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and discovered his calling at an open microphone. And from then on he advanced in fits and starts under the tutelage of a stream of mentors charmed by him but also by the idea of a life redeemed by art.

“It sounds hackneyed, but one reason we love Lemon so much is that he is really someone saved by his artistic talent,” said Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater. “The fact that a kid who came from such incredibly damaging circumstances figured out how to respond to all that with such huge spirit makes old guys like Spike Lee and me fall in love.”

“Love” was a word Mr. Lee also used. “We love Lemon; he’s part of the 40 Acres family,” he said, referring to his production company. He first saw Mr. Andersen’s “great talent” in “Def Poetry” and considers him “a very funny, poignant storyteller” and “a unique voice from the greatest borough — Brooklyn good lookin.’ ”

“But,” Mr. Lee added, teasingly, “I’d like to say my man Lemon is the only Puerto Rican I’ve met who can’t play softball. Roberto Clemente would be ashamed.”

Mr. Andersen chose to be interviewed on the paved steps of El Puente community center in nonhipster Williamsburg, with the elevated subway clanking above and the reggaeton-booming cars rumbling by.

“This is my place,” he said of El Puente, where he delivered his first poem, acted in his first troupe, found his first mentor and met his future wife. “This is where my life changed.”

Mr. An - New York Times Profile by Deborah Sontag

"Sundance Institutute Selects Eight Projects for 2012 Theatre Lab"

Sundance Institute Selects Eight Projects for 2012 Theatre Lab at Sundance Resort, July 9-29
Posted Apr 2, 2012

New York, NY — Sundance Institute today announced the eight projects selected from nearly 900 submissions to participate in the 2012 Theatre Lab, July 9-29 at the Sundance Resort. Under the supervision of Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director, and Associate Director Christopher Hibma, the Lab is the centerpiece of the Theatre Program’s year-round work and is designed to support emerging and established artists and to create a place where their original work can be effectively mentored and challenged.

“The eight projects we’ve selected for 2012 are diverse in every sense,” said Himberg.”We have had the pleasure of discovering the work of writers not known to us prior to this submission process. Our slate includes an NYU undergraduate student, as well as seasoned Sundance Institute alumni that we are welcoming home. Artists hail from Hawaii, New York, Chicago, Nigeria and Tanzania. We look forward to working with these artists to realize their visions for the unique and indelible worlds they seek to create on stage.”

The Theatre Lab provides rehearsal space, dramaturgical support, an acting company, stage management and accommodations/meals for playwrights, directors, choreographers, composers, solo performers and ensembles. The Lab’s unique day-on, day-off rehearsal structure provides Fellows the time to explore revising their work, without the pressure of daily rehearsals, as well as freedom from commercial attention. The three-week residency culminates in a closed presentation of each project for Lab participants, followed by a collaborative feedback session.

Fellows at the Lab will be supported by a team of advisors and colleagues who provide feedback on the material and process. Dramaturgs for the Lab are: Janice Paran, Artistic Associate; Roberta Levitow, Artistic Associate; Mame Hunt, Artistic Associate; and Jocelyn Clarke (Ireland). Artists in Residence are: Eric Wainaina, composer and bookwriter from Nairobi, Kenya; and Zainabu Wallo, playwright from Ikeja, Nigeria. The eight projects were selected with input from an Advisory Committee including Lydia Diamond, David Henry Hwang, Stephen Wadsworth, Mame Hunt and Janice Paran.

Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute, said, “That four of the eight projects selected are written by artists who participated in the 2011 Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross Foundation is of particular significance to us. We value our relationships with these artists and projects, as well as all of those we support, from development to production.”

Projects for the 2012 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab are:

Africa Kills Her Sun (Tanzania/Kenya)
An adaptation of Africa Kills Her Sun by Ken Saro-Wiwa
Mrisho Mpoto, adapter/performer
Irene Sanga, adapter/performer
Elidady Msangi, composer
Gilbert Lukalia, assistant director/performer
Indhu Rubasingham, director

By Lemon Andersen
Directed by Elise Thoron
Willie Green a.k.a. "Dolomite," the famous Folklore hero from the old Black Narratives, is still known as the baddest badass out of San Antone, but he's aged and has been locked up for murder in Attica's D-Block for the last 27 years. Word is brewing throughout Attica that a riot is coming, but Dolomite and his cellmates would rather not get involved until the youngest inmate in D-Block gets a vicious beating by the officers for talking like a liberal about the prison conditions. Does Dolomite join the riots and take vengeance upon the officers for what they did – or lock himself in his cell and hope for a promised parole date and the chance to taste freedom? ToasT is a commission of the Public Theater/UTR.

Sundance Institute
Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover and support independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, I Am My Own Wife, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
- Sundance Institute press release

"His Streets, His Stories, His Life"

His Streets, His Stories, His Life

Published: October 13, 2009
Lemon Andersen says the word “drive” as if it were holy. Of course he doesn’t mean it in the sense of what people do in cars or on golf courses. “Drive,” a noun that stuck and grew in Mr. Andersen’s mind when he heard it uttered by a demanding teacher in a children’s ballet class, means ambition, discipline and ruling passion. It is a force powerful enough to propel a teenage crack dealer from poverty in Brooklyn to a solo spotlight on a stage at the Public Theater.

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Carol Rosegg
"County of Kings": Lemon Andersen in his solo show, a memoir, at the Public Theater.
When Life Names You Lemon ... (September 27, 2009)

Theater Reviews | Under the Radar Festival: In Festival, Biography, Beckett and Blues (January 14, 2009)

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Carol Rosegg
Lemon Andersen in “County of Kings,” his show at the Public.

That’s where “County of Kings,” Mr. Andersen’s gleaming stand-up memoir, opened on Monday night. Seen in an earlier version at the Public as part of the Under the Radar Festival in January, this one-man show has since acquired a formidable team of producers, including the filmmaker Spike Lee, and a seriously enhanced focus, precision and polish. For Mr. Andersen, drive has clearly been a god worth serving.

Directed and developed by Elise Thoron, “County of Kings” is in its outlines a conventional show-biz fable, not unlike the “Fame” movies, in which eager kids from hard-knock backgrounds “learn how to fly” on the wings of talent. But Mr. Andersen invests the formula with a fine-grained grittiness of detail and a rapt love for words that is at least as strong as his love of hearing his own voice.

Both kinds of love are essential to his craft, and they endow Mr. Andersen with a magnetism that holds us for the nearly two hours it takes him to tell his story. “County of Kings” begins with a moment of apotheosis, at the Tony Awards in 2003, when “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam,” a show in which Mr. Andersen appeared, won for “special theatrical event.” From the heights of that evening, the show’s focus glides, like an old-fashioned biopic, down Manhattan, over the Hudson River and into a Brooklyn housing complex called the Courtyard.

“These are my streets, my stories,” says Mr. Andersen, admiring the retrospective view in wonder. “How did I end up here?”

“County of Kings” maps the road from there to here in a series of set pieces rendered in prose and poetry, propelled by a hip-hop urgency that becomes the beat of Mr. Andersen’s life. Undulating, chanting and contorting his deceptively guileless face to become both the child he was and the people who shaped him, he describes the exhilaration and the pain of growing up in a drug-scarred but familial neighborhood, the son of a Puerto Rican mother and a Norwegian-American father.

His memories of boyish pleasures, garlanded with cadenced recitations of brand names and headlines that define a culture, include watching his stepfather strip cars and watching the crowds watch his younger self as he spontaneously dances with his beloved mother, Millie, at Coney Island. The agonies, etched in a wounded ambivalence, include seeing Millie, a drug addict, die of AIDS in a hospital. (His recitation of contrasting litanies about what life will be like after Millie — couched in terms of “only one more” and “no more” — is the show’s most quietly potent moment.)

Mr. Andersen speaks of going on to sell the kind of drugs that helped to kill his mother, and of winding up in prison both close to home (at Rikers Island) and far from it (in an Ohio county jail). He remembers the epiphanies of young sex with a virgin girlfriend (told from her point of view) and of raw sex with a toothless whore in a crack den. These descriptions are remarkably visceral and remarkably unpornographic, as befits a man whose eyes might have “seen too much,” as he says, but still glow with a child’s amazed innocence.

“My imagination turned senselessness into sense,” he says of the time his mother was dying. He envisions a salty showdown between Millie and God, who allows Millie, as feisty as ever in the afterlife, to become her son’s guardian angel. Perhaps it was this celestial guidance that led him to take up the microphone at an open poetry reading in the mid-1990s. It was there, in any case, that he re-experienced the power rush of performing that he had first tasted dancing with Millie at Coney Island.

The production’s top-notch design team — which includes Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein (set), Jane Cox and Lily Fossner (lighting) and Rob Kaplowitz and Matt Stein (sound) — underlines its star’s inherent charisma with the savvy subtlety of “natural” makeup on a beautiful woman. “County of Kings” is, in a sense, the perfect Off Broadway companion piece to “Wishful Drinking,” Carrie Fisher’s a - New York Times Review by Ben Brantley


Still working on that hot first release.



LEMON ANDERSEN is an acclaimed poet, writer, actor and performer whose words saved him from a life of crime. The three-time felon became a one-time Tony Award winner when he broke out from the projects to Broadway as an original cast member of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam and then had the most aired episodes on HBO's “Def Poetry.” Lemon’s film acting credits include “The Soloist,” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx, as well as Spike Lee’s “Miracle At St. Anna,” “Sucker Free City,” “She Hate Me,” and he appeared opposite Denzel Washington in “Inside Man.” Lemon’s stage memoir, County of Kings was presented by Spike Lee at the prestigious Public Theatre in New York and received an acclaimed NY Times review http://nyti.ms/lemoncok. It has been staged for American audiences from coast-to-coast, in Europe and South Africa. Lemon's unique voice flows from hard-edged drama to street poetry, creating a vivid portrait of his adverse yet often humorous coming-of-age experiences while growing up in Brooklyn. In addition to his play, Lemon is author of the book County of Kings, a spoken-word memoir. He is the subject of “Lemon,” a documentary film which will be a nationwide PBS broadcast on October 19, 2012 (10:00 - 11:00 pm ET).