nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 8, 2011
Nicky Silver’s The Lyons is the newest entry into a genre that can only be described as “wealthy white people being mean to one another.” While superbly acted by the six-member company, slickly directed by Mark Brokaw, and, occasionally, outrageously funny in its cutting humor, what The Lyons lacks is a deeper meaning underneath the façade of the characters' irredeemable awfulness.
The first act serves as an introduction to the Lyons family. Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa) is in the hospital, dying of cancer that has spread throughout his body. Rita (Linda Lavin), his wife of forty-odd years, is more concerned with redecorating the living room once Ben finally croaks. Their emotionally damaged adult children, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) and Curtis (Michael Esper), have only now been made aware of the situation, as the Grim Reaper’s knock is imminent. Lisa, a divorced mother of two, has been sober for five years and is teetering on the brink of falling back into her old habits. Curtis, a gay writer of short stories, is friendless, sarcastic, and despised by his father for all of the above.
While Rita and Ben are the focal points of the first half, Curtis is the driving force of the second, when the play veers into territory that, typically of Silver, is particularly discomfiting. We find Curtis looking at an empty studio apartment, with a real estate agent (Gregory Wooddell) who doesn’t know what he’s getting into by giving the suddenly very creepy Curtis the right time of day. In fact, we don’t realize what Curtis is up to either, until he drops one magic word. By the end, Curtis is the one in the hospital, looking to reevaluate his choices, opposite a tough-as-nails nurse (Brenda Pressley) who won’t take any of his bullshit.
I presume Silver chose to focus the second act on Curtis in an effort to show how both the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and how his parents have irrevocably screwed him up. Yet, while all the other characters have at least a small modicum of redeeming qualities, Curtis has none. And while Esper’s smug self-satisfaction perfectly suits the character, there’s nothing he can do to get us on his side. On the other hand, Grant provides the emotional center that the play otherwise lacks as the pathetic daughter Lisa. Not only do you actually feel bad for her, but you actually like her, which is more than I can say for any of the others. Latessa has little more to do than look perturbed and swear, but he does both with expert precision.
The piece rightfully belongs to Lavin as a mother who’d make the mother from hell look kind. She is absolute perfection in every sense of the word, in timing, in delivery, and in mannerisms. Lavin sinks her teeth into Rita and pulls out an achingly funny performance. It’s no wonder why this role enticed her more than, presumably, continuing to Broadway with Follies or Other Desert Cities. (She was just as excellent in both, but this provides the bigger opportunity.)
Allan Moyer’s hospital setting is pitch-perfect; so too is his bare white studio apartment (switched in one of those “how’d they do that?” moments.) David Lander provides the similarly dead-on harsh, institutional lighting, with Michael Krass adding costumes that easily define each character.
It’s just too bad that the play doesn’t add up.