The Lyons Review: Dysfunction Delight
How is it that “The Lyons” is the most enjoyable play I have seen so far this season?
The characters are unhappy and unpleasant, and not only that, they are the kind of people we’ve seen on stage before, way too often, a staple of the theater and in particular of playwright Nicky Silver – a dysfunctional Jewish family, complete with self-involved mother, distant sourpuss father, alcoholic daughter, angry gay son.
The play begins in a hospital room, with Mother Rita Lyons (Linda Lavin) sitting in a chair flipping through magazines looking for ideas on how to redecorate her home once her husband, Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa), who is in the hospital bed next to her, is dead, which will be soon. He likes the house the way it is; she’s always hated it.
“I’m dying, Rita,” Ben says.
“Yes, I know,” Rita says, still flipping through a magazine. “Try to be positive. My mother used to say ‘Dying isn’t so bad. Not when you consider the alternative.’”
Lavin looks up from her magazine; her face twists into a lesson in confusion, as if to ask, is that how the saying goes?
Within that moment may rest a clue to the play’s effectiveness. The playwright presents the familiar with just the right…twist…to make it absurd and hilarious, but also in its own weird way, insightful. The performers make it credible and engaging.
You may remember Linda Lavin from “Alice.” You may have read about her performance in the Kennedy Center production of “Follies” or seen her Off-Broadway in “Other Desert Cities” and wondered why she did not stay with either show as they transferred to Broadway. Her choice makes sense once you see her in “The Lyons.” She presents us someone solid and intriguing from what could easily have been a cartoon; a real character is revealed through the subtle flickers of her facial expressions. The performance offers a payoff in the end when she changes before our eyes, a transformation that forces us to think.
The first act takes place entirely in the hospital room. The second act is split into three scenes. First up is a monologue by the daughter Lisa Lyons (Kate Jennings Grant).
Then, in an Albee-like encounter, real estate agent/actor Brian (Gregory Wooddell ) is showing an empty apartment to the son Curtis Lyons (Michael Esper). I loved Silver’s throwaway reference to the Ensemble Studio Theater, an example of his devilish wit:
Curtis: Lots of stairs and the smell of urine?
Brian: That’s right! But respected. I mean people respect it. I was in last year’s marathon series, Evening B. The third play.
In the final scene, we are back in the hospital room, with a different patient. The scenes of the second act seem more scattered, disconnected, and less satisfying than the self-contained first act, but that surely is the playwright’s deliberate choice, as if to say: That’s how life pans out. The characters may feel disconnected and despairing, they may be twisted, but “The Lyons” ends with a twist we can live with – something close to hope.
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At the Vineyard Theater
By Nicky Silver; directed by Mark Brokaw; sets by Allen Moyer; costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by David Lander; music and sound by David Van Tieghem; fight director, Thomas Schall
Cast: Michael Esper (Curtis Lyons), Kate Jennings Grant (Lisa Lyons), Dick Latessa (Ben Lyons), Linda Lavin (Rita Lyons), Brenda Pressley (Nurse) and
Running time: 2 hours.
The Lyons is scheduled to run through November 11.
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