Lemon Sky was first developed at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference in 1968, with Michael Douglas in the cast. It was later produced Off-Off-Broadway at Cafe La MaMa in 1970. It was then produced at the Studio Arena Theater, Buffalo, New York and next Off-Broadwy at the Playhouse Theatre, running from May 17, 1970 to May 31, 1970. Directed by Warren Enters, the cast featured Charles Durning (Douglas), Christopher Walken (Alan) and Bonnie Bartlett (Ronnie). Christopher Walken won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. The play was presented Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in December 1985, starring Jeff Daniels as Alan, Wayne Tippet as the father and Cynthia Nixon as Carol and Jill Eikenberry, directed by Mary B. Robinson. Jill Eikenberry won the 1986 Obie Award, Performance.
Clive Barnes, in his review for The New York Times of the 1970 production, wrote: "On many levels Lemon Sky is a play very well worth seeing. It has the immediacy of the way we live, and something of the smooth-spoken hysteria."