"Geography is a personal journey for me. I'm not making any big, political art statements," he warns. Of the ancient traditions and modern elements that rub elbows in Tree, he says, "I represent the Western encroachment, and at least in this situation, we can talk about it and have fun." Nevertheless, Djédjé Djédjé Gervais, a Côte d'Ivoirian returning from Geography I, hopes that Lemon's personal journey will send a political message. "What's interesting here is the great diversity that results in one thing," he says in his native French. "People who are very different politically and culturally have succeeded in overcoming their boundaries, coming together, and creating something beautifula new language and a new culture. I hope this project inspires other people to come together."
Bebe Miller, a longtime friend and collaborator, calls Lemon a "beacon" for "what happens beyond a company. He's always asking, 'What's the risk here?' " Katherine Profeta, one of Geography's dramaturges, cites Lemon's typical answer to an either/or question: "Both."
photo: Tara Fallaux
Migrant art worker: does Ralph Lemons personal journey send a political message?
But Miller points out the financial supportin large part from Yalethat makes dramaturgy possible. "What a difference it makes to have that kind of backing, all that collaborative support!" The question now is what difference it will make not to have all that support: Stan Wojewodski Jr., dean of the School of Drama and responsible for Yale's commissioning and coproducing of Geography I and II, finishes his last term next year.
Lemon is not one to balk at obstacles. He reflects on his quest for ever greater artistic challenges with pleasure. "I feel like I'm free-falling, yet I'm not going to die. I'm thinking it might be possible to have an audience understand this experimental journey, not necessarily get itI don't get itbut to have an experience. I would like for them to be exhilarated by the questions I bring up. Every moment in Treeis a question. But," he adds with a mysterious smile, "a good question."