THE BROADWAY STAR EARNS HER SIXTH TONY NOMINATION FOR HER RIOTOUS PORTRAYAL OF A MOTHER FROM HELL
BY HENRY EDWARDS
Over the years, the American drama has conjured some astonishing, often dysfunctional families, the Wingfields of "The Glass Menagerie," the Lomans of “Death of a Salesman,” the Tyrones of “ Long Day’s Journey into Night,” the Youngers of "A Raisin in the Sun," to name a few.
But none really compare to the family that inhabits Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons,” currently holding court at Broadway’s Cort Theatre. The Lyons may be as terrible as the rest, but they're also funny—terribly funny in a terribly bitter, terribly black-comedy way.
Playwright Silver built his reputation in series of dark, absurdist flavored Off-Broadway farces that mated riotous comedy writing to positively awful situations, including incest, rape, cannibalism, AIDS and alienation.
“The Lyons,” which had its premiere at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre in the fall of 2011, not only marks Silver’s’ Main Stem debut, but also displays the playwright dusting a new found sprinkling of empathy over the aggressive, comically alienated creatures that comprise his wonderfully dyspeptic vision of the American family.
The first act of the two-act comedy transports the audience to a hospital room where Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa) awaits his imminent death from cancer. Rita (Linda Lavin), his wife of forty years, sits by his bedside. While other wives would be miserable, this is a comedy by Nicky Silver, and mom is busy perusing a bunch of magazines in search of ideas to redecorate the living room to her satisfaction after the death of her husband.
After all, she whines, the "chairs are the color of disgust and the carpet is matted down with resignation."
“I love the living room,” gasps the dying man in response. “I love everything in it. Except the people.”
And the vitriol doesn’t stop there.
“I’m dying!” Ben groans.
“Yes, I know. But try to be positive,” replies Rita.
And when Ben wonders if he’s going to go to Hell, Rita responds, "Who are you to get into Hell? What have you ever done?"
The great Linda Lavin portrays this mother from Hell, and Lavin has never been funnier, more precise or more engaging.
Much about this character is woefully unattractive by conventional standards, and yet Lavin, by virtue of her star presence and fiercely concentrated sense of humor, transforms her into the heroine who leaves the audience cheering.
Eventually, to add to the comic intensity, the Lyons are joined by their two very damaged, very lonely, very alienated adult children, Lisa and Curtis.
Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) is alcoholic and newly single; Curtis (Michael Esper), gay (and loathed by his father because of his sexuality) and a failed short story writer(!), feels so dramatically unworthy he dramatically invents a fantasy lover, Brian (Gregory Wooddell) whom he stalks.
While the first act is black-comedy perfection, the second act, somewhat less satisfying, digs deeper into Silver’s comic vision of the difficulty of making a human connection, especially within the confines of the family structure, and the need to make that connection anyway.
Ultimately, when Mom sets out to get what she wants in the face of the horrendous family members she was instrumental in creating, Linda Lavin will leave you gasping with laughter and applause.
Mark Brokaw directs with his customary skill, perfectly orchestrating the shifting moods of the piece.
Dick Latessa is a riot as the foul mouthed dying father, and Grant, Esper and Wooddell make their marks in supporting roles.
“The Lyons” has grown substantially since its Off-Broadway debut, and unlike almost every show that moves from a small space to a Broadway barn, the play feels comfortable in its new and far more expansive setting.
"Clearly I like a joke, but there’s also a strain in me that is very dark, forbidding, and disturbing. There’s a lot of Borscht Belt in me and a lot of psychological misery," the playwright has said of his work.
No doubt about it, Nicky Silver is an inspired original; "The Lyons" is a caustic delight; and Linda Lavin, in her sixth nomination, more than deserves to win her second Tony.
“The Lyons” continues at the Cort Theatre (http://thelyonsonbroadway.com)