The Lyons

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

For close to 30 years, playwright Nicky Silver has been eviscerating families with his scathing wit. He’s moved away from the more absurdist elements in his early shows, but he remains a writer with a unique voice and a keen understanding of the resentments that simmer just below the surface of even the best-behaved people. Not that Silver has any interest in good behavior.

His 2011 play, The Lyons is having its local premiere in a strongly cast production at the Road Theatre. Ben (James Handy) is terminally ill, and he’s more than happy to rage against the dying of the light. He’s also ready for a few final rounds with his wife, Rita (Judith Scarpone), who is sitting by his hospital bed. Rita is ostensibly there to offer comfort, but appears more interested in plans to do over the living room once he’s gone.

It appears the only thing this couple agrees on is not burdening their two children with the news of their father’s imminent demise prematurely. But the day has come, and the children have been sent for. Lisa (Verity Branco) arrives first. She is definitely “Daddy’s Little Girl” and is both shocked and incensed that her parents felt they needed to protect her from her father’s condition. Lisa is divorced and a recovering alcoholic. She’ll find no greater test of her sobriety than this family reunion.

Next to arrive is Curtis (Chad Coe). Initially Curtis appears to be sane one in the group, but Silver takes his time unveiling the man’s dangerous secrets. Curtis is gay, and James makes no secret of the fact that it disgusts him. If this sounds like the set-up for a teary deathbed reconciliation, you don’t know Nicky Silver.

After the harsh laughs of the first act, the script takes an unexpected detour, introducing a new character, a different setting, and a markedly altered tone. The gamble doesn’t entirely pay off, but Silver’s attempt to move beyond his comfort zone is appreciated.

Director Scott Alan Smith guides his terrific cast with a sure hand. Particularly impressive is the opening sequence, where every jab and barb of the tricky dialog is clearly delineated, even though both Ben and Rita are immobile – Ben in his hospital bed, and Rita in her visitor’s chair. Sarah B. Brown’s clever and efficient scenic design neatly encompasses the action and the venue shift.

Scarpone’s Rita perfectly embodies a certain Manhattan narcissistic nightmare of a mother, obliviously dispensing cruelty while barely modulating her voice. Handy’s hilarious temper tantrums are completely understandable when you see that even his incipient death can’t capture his wife’s undivided attention. Branco’s fragile Lisa only needs a few hours with her family to destroy her tenuous hold on self-recovery. With Curtis, Coe etches a portrait of a man who seems to have survived his family relatively unscathed. That is, until you are drawn into his pain-filled eyes.

The Lyons may not be Silver’s best play, nor would you care to spend time with any of these characters in real life. But a couple of hours in their company, safely protected by the Fourth Wall, is both diverting and unsettling.

The Road on Lankershim    May 12 – July 1, 2017