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A CurtainUp Review


The Lyons

Linda Lavin's Brings her Ueber Dysfunctional Matron to Broadway

The Lyons
Linda Lavin
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Linda Lavin is no stranger to Broadway. For Nicky Silver, the creator of Rita Lyons, the monstrous matriarch of his ueber dysfunctional family comedy, The Lyons, is his first Broadway outing. While numerous other Silver plays have been staged by the Vineyard Theater, this is the first one to transfer to a Broadway house. The move uptown was fueled by Lavin's incredibly funny and ultimately poignant performance. Though it's a 6-character play — with excellent performances from Dick Latessa, Kate Jennings Grant and Michael Esper as Rita's hapless family members — this was and still is Lavin's show.

Allen Moyer's set fits the larger stage of its new home very nicely and the audience at the press matinee I attended was very responsive. The only major change in the script is the elimination of Kate Jennings Grant's Alcoholic Anonymous meeting monologue after the intermission. Since I thought this was an unnecessary transitional scene, I can only applaud its omission this time around.

The transitional second act opener now takes us from that brilliantly funny-sad bedside scene to the downtown Manhattan apartment that Curtis Lyons is being shown by an actor moonlighting as a real estate agent (Gregory Woodell making the most of his brief appearance). It's a tense little drama within the drama. Though this depicts Curtis as the apple not falling far from the family tree, and as desperately in need of a new start, it's mainly a dramatic device, a bridge to take us back to the hospital after Ben Lyons has met the Grim Reaper. As such, it goes on a bit too long, and I couldn't help thinking that the transition between the Act One finale and the Act Two beginning, needed something more than just deleting that AA meeting.

Except for the rather minor transition problem, seeing The Lyons a second time somehow deepened the poignancy underneath Lavin's hilarious portrait of a woman who imprisoned herself in a loveless marriage because it never occured to her to just walk out. Whether that makes it a strong enough play to sustain a successful Broadway run remains to be seen, especially in a season with so many Broadway marquees lit up with new titles,

In the meantime, since Mark Brokaw and the original design team as well as the cast on board again, everything I said last November applies to this production. And so, please continue reading, by clicking here where you'll also find links to other Nicky Silver plays reviewed at Curtainup.

Broadway Production Notes
The Lyons by Nicky Silver
Directed by Mark Brokaw
WITH: Michael Esper (Curtis Lyons), Kate Jennings Grant (Lisa Lyons), Dick Latessa (Ben Lyons), Linda Lavin (Rita Lyons), Brenda Pressley (Nurse) and Gregory Wooddell (Brian).
Scenic design: Allen Moyer
Lighting design: David Lander
Costumes: Michael Krass
Original music and sound design: David Van Tieghem
Fight director: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager: Robert Bennett
Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Cort Theatre 138 W. 48 St 212/239-6200
From 4/05/12; opening 4/23/12. (Closed 7/01/12 after 21 previews and total of 80 performances)
Wednesday - Saturday @8pm, Wednesday and Saturday @2pm Sunday @3pm; after 4/25, Tuesdays at 7, Wed. at 2 and 8, Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8 and Sundays at 3.
Tickets $26.50 to $126.50
Review by Elyse Sommer based on 4/21/12 press matinee Original Review
Original Review at the Vineyard Theater
I’m dying, Rita. — Ben
Yes, I know. Try to be positive. —Rita
The latest of Linda Lavin's hilariously neurotic women is is Rita Lyons the matriarch of Nicky Silver's The Lyons. Lavin has a lot in common with Gail Collins, my favorite New York Times columnist. Both can make the most depressing I'd-rather-not-go-there events uncontrollable giggle fests — Collins on the page, Lavin on stage. Really!

My eyes glaze over news of another Republican Presidential Wannabe debate, yet Collins' report on the latest of these debacles ("The Gift of Glib" 10/13/11), just a day after The Lyons had its official opening at the Vineyard Theater, had me in stitches over her description of Governor Rick Perry's big energy plan as "The Plan I’m Going to Be Laying Out" and the Governor generally as "a large boulder with good hair."

I've seen too many friends and relatives die from cancer not to be a bit wary about expecting to laugh a lot at a play set in the hospital room where Ben (Dick Latessa), the Lyons paterfamilias, "has cancer, apparently in every inch of him." And yet, Linda Lavin has made me do just that. Her monstrous Rita Lyons' wry, self-absorbed talkathon at her husband's bedside is irresistibly funny. If the performance I attended is an indication, the only problem with Lavin's impeccably timed laugh lines is that a few get drowned out by the audience's laughter.

The laugh meter spins out of control from the moment the lights settle on the elegantly prim, proper and dazzlingly outrageous Lavin. Her lengthy monologue is only occasionally interrupted by protests from the man whose fear of dying has loosened his tongue to spew expletives he probably never used during his and Rita's forty years in the self-imposed prison of the unhappily undivorced.

Latessa, being hooked up and mercifully pumped full of pain killers brings as much emotional resonance to his role role as can be expected. But this is clearly Lavin's show and continues to be so even when the Lyons children make their appearance, both demonstrating the ripple effect of their parents' neuroses. Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) is the alcoholic veteran of an abusive marriage. Curtis (Michael Esper), a writer, is a homosexual despite the homophobic Ben's efforts to turn him into a manly Green Beret. Both have had as little as possible to do with their ego-smashing parents. Even now that Rita has decided that they should be on hand for their father's final act on life's stage, there's little hope that we'll be witnessing any sort of redemptive healing of old and still festering wounds.

Playwright Silver keeps each member of this ueber dysfunctional family locked in an airtight bubble of secretiveness and loneliness that makes any genuine emotional connection impossible. Well, actually, the parents do get out — Fred courtesy of the Grim Reaper, and Rita through a desperate 40-year-overdue grab for happiness which may also force Lisa and Curtis to pack up their blame-the-parents game and find the building blocks to self-esteem from within themselves.

The second act's shift in focus on the problems of the children makes this one of Silver's more touching and thematically well realized plays. However, Mark Brokaw's balanced and smoothly paced direction, doesn't save the second act from being a letdown. Kate Jennings Grant is fine in the interactions with her family, but her solo monologue at an AA meeting at the top of that second act somehow comes off as some not strictly necessary incidental music. The scene following her solo , in which Curtis is negotiating a possible studio apartment purchase with Brian (Gregory Wooddel), an actor paying his rent as a real estate broker, does pack more dramatic punch. Esper is terrifically creepy and pitiful and Wooddell does well by a minor role. But it's not until we return to the familial dynamic and Linda Lavin is back that The Lyons once again picks up full steam.

Rita's slamming the door on her lifelong habit of kvetching and nagging her way through her dissatisfactions with perfect decorum, takes Lavin's performance from sublime comic shtick into an incredibly moving portrait of emotional neediness and desperation. Nicky Silver and Vineyard audiences have every reason to rejoice that Lavin opted to forego reprising her role as the acerbic aunt in Other Desert Cities on Broadway to be the most fiercely funny, and ferociously determined to survive member of Silver's metaphorically named family.

As usual for the Vineyard, The Lyons affords a chance to appreciate top notch acting and production values in an intimate space where every seat is prime. No opera glass needed to see what Ms. Lavin can do with a raised eyebrow and a pursed lip.

We saw but weren't on line to review Silver's Pterodactyls, Raised in Captivity, and The Food Chain. Here are links to plays we did review, all except Three Changes also at the Vineyard Theater.
The Altruists ( 2000)
Beautiful Child (2004)
The Eros Trilogy (1999)
The Maiden's Prayer(1998)
Three Changes (2008)

The Lyons played at the Vineyard Theater from 9/21/11; opening 10/11; closing 11/20/11 with the same cast, director and production team, listed in the production notes of our update on the play's Broadway transfer. Despite a tightened and improved script, that transfer ran for just 80 performances

©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
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