THE LYONS Send This Review to a Friend
Talk about dysfunctional families. “The Lyons,” a new play by Nicky Silver, presents a totally screwed up family as Silver demonstrates the knack of making pathetic situations extremely funny. Blessed with an on-target cast, this Vineyard Theatre production benefits from the sharp direction by Mark Brokaw, who keeps the tone balanced between nasty comedy and family misery.
Dick Latessa plays Ben Lyons, who lies dying in a hospital bed while his wife Rita, played by Linda Lavin, prattles on and on about wanting to re-decorate their home. She is horrendously insensitive, asking that he be optimistic even though he is painfully croaking. We quickly get a portrait of their sour marriage, and Ben greets Rita’s chatter with a resounding “Shut the f--- up.”
Lavin is perfect as this wife waiting for her husband to die and already off in her own universe. She has the marvelous gift of being a solid actress as well as a superb comedienne. Her timing is utter perfection as she gets off lines that are uproariously funny delivered with utter seriousness. Her intonations, expressions and obliviousness to her husband’s suffering are devastatingly laugh-inducing in this memorable performance that is among the best of the season. Latessa’s skill counterpoints hers, and the play is off to a roaring start.
Subsequently, we meet their daughter, Lisa, played brassily by Kate Jennings Grant, whose life is a mess, filled with her own angst and rage. Given her upbringing, it is entirely understandable. The same can be said of the befuddled son Curtis, thoroughly pathetic and made to look hapless and hopeless in the expert performance by Michael Esper. We get a sampling of him in a scene in an empty apartment that he is thinking of buying from Brian, a messed up, easily agitated real estate agent, well-portrayed by Gregory Wooddell. There is an altercation, and we next find Curtis recuperating in a hospital bed, after his father has died, and attended by a nurse played by Brenda Pressley.
Rita has as surprise for both her children, and as with everything else she does, she elicits loud audience laughter with her final exit. “The Lyons” is a wickedly funny family portrait from hell. At the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.