Like most city kids, Lemon Andersen’s life revolved around his apartment building. And like too many city kids in precarious situations, he wound up on the wrong side of the law.
Andersen’s story from three-time felon to playwright is told in “Lemon,” airing Friday Oct. 19 (check local listings), on “VOCES on PBS” as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, though technically the month ends earlier this week. Lemon is his nickname, which came about because he was so blond as a kid.
Andersen’s parents had drug problems, and his beloved mother, Millie, died of AIDS. He talks lovingly about his mom.
Andersen turned that pain into poetry, catching the attention of Russell Simmons, who hired him and eight others to perform in “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam,” honored with a special Tony Award.
The film shows how he, his wife and children live with her parents in a cramped apartment with a total of 13 people.
“Poetry is my meal ticket out of the hood,” he says on camera.
Andersen takes his one-man biographical play to The Public Theater, where instructors help refine his talents. His determination, evident in the film, inspires students who have seen this film at festivals, Andersen says.
There’s a scene with his old friends, one of whom says that they were responsible for a crime wave.
After robbing someone in a park, which became “a tussle,” Andersen wound up slapped with a felony, then there were drug arrests, and he did time.
Now he’s working on a play about Attica.
“I want to write plays because it is the only medium I know that shines on the writer,” he says. “As a playwright you can’t be touched once the script is locked; it is over, it can’t be touched again. The actor is not allowed to change the words.”
“That is the thing I love about the theater,” Andersen says. “It is safe to be risky, safe to be gay, safe to be shocking, and the characters are sinking in, and you can’t really do that in film. TV is starting to get into that.”