Chris Lemmon
Chris Lemmon Credit: Charles Osgood

Chris Lemmon does a great job of embodying his father, the late actor Jack Lemmon. He’s not only got the stuttery speech, fluttery hand gestures, and manic little laugh down pat but makes engaging use of them as Jack tells the story of his life—wealthy Bostonian birth to Hollywood stardom as a result of films like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Chris’s Jack talks about movie shoots and legends. He discusses his two wives, best friend Walter Matthau, unlikely idol Jean-Louis Barrault, and long-term functional alcoholism. He performs interestingly off-tempo versions of Gershwin standards using an onstage piano.

Yet soon enough it becomes clear that 59-year-old Chris has an ax to grind. He apparently wants dad (publicly) to acknowledge the suffering he caused Chris as a preoccupied parent and a drunk. Written and directed by Hershey Felder, the 90-minute show ends up doing a sort of double reverse Oedipal flip in which a son actually turns himself into his father as a way of forcing the father to say things the son needs to hear. That might be a neat trick if it were intentional, but I didn’t get the impression it was.

All in all, Jack Lemmon Returns reminds me of the final scene in Orphans, the play by Lyle Kessler: When a needy young man comes home to discover his newfound father figure sitting on a couch, dead, the young man sits down next to the corpse and tries to get its limp arm around his shoulder in a paternal hug. The sad fact, though, is that the father figure can’t do it. He’s dead.