The Lyons

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    This is a really not a play in the classic sense. It is a theatrical triptych of one acts. The first, in which Linda Lavin as Rita Lyon glows red hot, is the story of a man on his deathbed with his seriously dysfunctional family in attendance. Thank goodness there are only three of them. The term Pride of Lyons is hard to avoid here, because each of them holds up their pride like a shield. Ben (Dick Latessa) has always loved his wife, even though he has treated her like crap for most of their time together. Rita has never warmed up to Ben, but was one of those women who married because it was expected of her. You find a nice boy who is crazy about you and will treat you well; you settle down. Don’t worry about love because, strictly speaking it is not necessary.

    Now that Ben is dying (although you wouldn’t know it by the look and sound of him) Rita’s already tightly wound persona has snapped a few of its restraining straps, and she prefers to fantasize about their new living room décor while she sits a premature shiva at her husband’s bedside.

    The kids are uniquely unhappy as well. Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) is a recovering alcoholic who is still in love with her abusive ex-husband. Curtis (Michael Esper) is so emotionally stunted that he prefers an active fantasy life to reality. Rita tolerates both children with a dispassionate air that only cracks when Ben attacks Curtis for being gay, which has not been news for decades.

    It is the finely written first act that gives us a complete picture of all of these people as they collide in Ben’s hospital room. They are each a Molotov cocktail walking around with a lit cigarette in hand. Should they set themselves on fire or toss the match onto a family member? It’s a tossup. Either would be satisfactory. There is little in the way of back-story presented here because we don’t need it. Their pain and prejudices come out like toothpaste from a cracked tube under high pressure. There is nowhere to duck because you are GOING to get some on you.

    After a revelatory argument the children leave, come back and leave again, and after a sorry bit of a confession on Rita’s part, Curtis returns with his tail between his legs, asking “Is he dead?” to which Rita replies, with a touch of hope, “Maybe tomorrow.”

    The play could end right there, but it doesn’t. Instead we are treated to a bit of what makes Curtis run as he meets with a real estate broker in an empty studio apartment. Esper and Gregory Wooddell (Brian) take on this tennis match of a scene with skill and precision. It is the second one-act and, like the first, is a complete unit.

    The resulting final act is yet another nugget and stands on its own as a play.

    That we accept this as an entire play speaks to the fact Nicky Silver knows how to make characters pop. Silver hears them talk and has the ability to make them hook into one another, flip around and take off in a different direction. These people are nearly jet propelled, and mainly what they have in common is the room in which Silver places them. The longer they stay, the more they reveal. It is not conventional play making, but it sure as hell keeps you glued to your seat.

    And it keeps these people alive in your head long after you leave the theatre.

    "Directed with a pulsing comic rhythm."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "A caustic and canny comedy about family dysfunction packed with surprises that are alternately hilarious, tragic and absurd."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "It’s comedy nirvana."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Linda Lavin continues to give a master class in comic timing."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "Works only half the time. But that half, taking the notion of family dysfunction to the outer limits of humor, is darkly entertaining theater."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Barbed zinger of a play."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Hollywood Reporter