An evening of exceptional regional theatre
Gripping the audience from the opening dialogue, amidst whirring expletives, the sterling cast of Nicky Silver's The Lyons delivers this production the way it was intended with blistering wit, an edge of cruelty and sublime interaction.
Nicky Silver is a contemporary American playwright residing in New York City. The Lyons is his first play to be produced on Broadway in the 2011-2012 Season. Mr. Silver's penchant for dark comedy has been compared by some to Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton and Christopher Durang. In The Lyons he gives us a dysfunctional family vying for love and attention in most peculiar ways, at odds with one another, the very people with whom they crave connection.
As her husband Ben lies in his hospital bed succumbing to cancer, Rita, the matriarch of the family, calmly plans redecorating the living room all the while delivering barbs to her husband and their visiting children so slyly we almost believe she has their best interests at heart. Ben, her husband of forty years, faces death with all the liberating emotions that releases, letting down the sacred social gates and emphatically speaking his mind. Lisa, their daughter, is shocked to be told her father is dying. She carries her own baggage as a recovering alcoholic with two young sons, one of whom may have issues as pointed out ever so "gently" by her mother. Unbalanced by his father's rejection of his homosexuality, their son, Curtis, wraps himself in a fantasy world that brutally shatters in Act Two. When Curtis arrives in Ben's hospital room the family dynamic shifts into high gear, claws flick out and secrets are exposed.
The characters in this play are rich, colorful, dented and these actors give them the range they deserve and complement each other with exemplary comedic timing and perfectly delivered lines.
Jody Bayer as Rita is the quintessential Jewish matriarch around which the family reluctantly spins. Ms. Bayer navigates the stage with the confidence of the accomplished actor she is never missing a beat in her merciless repartee with her family. Ms. Bayer connives us into believing she says these things for their benefit even when she's suggesting one of her grandchildren may not be quite right. Almost against our will, Jody Bayer uses her art to make us like Rita even when she cavalierly saunters off into the sunset. A remarkable performance by a gifted actor.
Starting with mere facial expressions and graduating to the most cleverly delivered profanity Bill Hughes deftly exhibits Ben's lifetime of frustration and disappointment. He's a man not only trapped in a hospital bed but in a homo-phobic generation, disgusted with his son's choice of lifestyle. He's anxious over his daughter's drinking and failed marriage and barely tolerant of his wife. Though the end is near he is gleeful at times using death as the green light to say whatever he pleases. Bill Hughes brings depth and dimension to Ben elevating him beyond a ranting, cursing character. He subtly shows us the man beneath, poignantly remembering his father and reluctantly admitting he loves his wife or at least the woman she used to be. Bill Hughes portrayal of Ben is real, generous and spiced with humor. I cannot imagine another actor in this key role.
Courtney Brooke Lauria is splendid as Lisa, the fractured daughter of the family. Recently divorced from the man she met at AA she is striving to do the best for her two young sons, despite her mother's relentless harping. Initially Lisa appears fragile, on the brink, but Ms. Lauria artfully brings Lisa's claws to bear engaging in a fast paced volley of words with her brother Curtis. Courtney Brooke Lauria endears Lisa to us whether she is pacing in her father's hospital room swigging from a vodka bottle, or realizing she'd rather be sitting with a dying stranger than spend time with her brother. Ms. Lauria's performance is engaging, touching and funny.
Curtis is a complex character. We can only imagine, from the bantering between his parents, what nasty toads lurked in his childhood resulting in a lonely life composed of fantasy. Joseph Russo unravels Curtis for us slowly, aloof from his parents, quick to unveil his sister's secret but maintaining his demeanor throughout Act One. Joseph Russo skillfully holds the pace of this character and invests Curtis not only with vulnerability but with the hint of menace lying in wait. Not easily done, but in this case done to perfection.
When the scene changes to an apartment in New York City, we meet Brian, portrayed by Jim Hipp, who in his short time on stage leaves a lasting impression. Tension builds as Curtis finds himself attracted to Brian, the sometimes actor selling real estate to survive. There is a verbal dance here between these two characters that emotionally escalates to elevate the collective heartbeat of the audience. Joseph Russo and Jim Hipp deliver this scene with precision and intensity making it a "bravo" moment in this play.
Although her part is small, I would be remiss not to mention Elizabeth Young who plays the Nurse, first to Ben and then to Curtis. Like a nurse, she brings a sense of calmness to all the doings and gives a fitting spark to the final scene.
This play is a swirl of fast and cutting dialogue, raucous comedy and character interaction. Despite this impeccable cast, there must be the guiding hand to orchestrate all the words and actions into an entertaining evening of theatre. Matt Austin's talents are clearly visible in his superb direction of this play hitting every high note impeccably.
The set is brilliant in its simplicity. If you've spent any time in a hospital (even visiting) the set will bring back all the lovely memories of that stale environment right down to the dull view out the window and the Sharps medical waste container. Seamlessly this stage view rotates and becomes a vacant apartment complete with left behind garbage.
If you're anything like me by now you have a severe case of cabin fever. Take my advice, brave the cold, and come to TheatreWorks in New Milford for a performance of The Lyons. Treat yourself to an evening of exceptional regional theatre.