Family dynamics can be fraught with anger especially during a crisis. Nicky Silver, who wrote The Lyons, now onstage at TheatreWorks, New Milford, takes a close look at a family gathered around the patriarch’s dying bedside. Don’t expect sentimental “I love you” professions in this bold and blunt uproarious comedy. Instead expect to witness the results of a family that has been completely disconnected emotionally for many years. Brutal and hurtful revelations are awful and often shocking, but the playwright has turned horrible into hilarity as each character reveals his or her own egotistical little worlds. The family name “Lyons” isn’t an accident. These characters attack and tear each other to shreds.
When the play opens, Ben is on his deathbed in a sterile hospital setting, which is most appropriate because nothing pleasant or beautiful will take place here. Rita, Ben’s wife, is by her husband’s bedside, but she is flipping through decorator magazines and talking non-stop about what she wants to do with the living room as soon as Ben dies. This angers Ben who says he will put in his will that he wants the living room to stay exactly as it is. If Rita’s heartlessness weren’t so outrageously funny, she would be a very cruel character. However, Ben, who has a wickedly foul tongue, goes head-to-head with her. One can only imagine that their 40-year marriage had to be a constant battle.
When daughter Lisa arrives on the scene, the matriarch immediately invites confrontation. First Lisa can’t believe she wasn’t told her father was sick let alone about to die at any minute, then mom asks if Lisa’s son has been tested. She tells her daughter that she thinks he might be retarded. Lisa is now infuriated but Mom keeps pushing all the right buttons to drive her daughter absolutely nuts. Mind you, watching this mother-daughter duo go at it scene is as outrageous as it is hilarious.
Things go from bad to worse when Curtis, Ben’s son, arrives on the scene. Curtis is gay, and Ben can’t stand his son’s homosexuality. When Curtis tells his father that he forgives him for this, Ben goes crazy and thinks it is ridiculous for his son to forgive the father. Mind you, the father has no intention of apologizing to his son for all the insulting remarks he has directed at him throughout his lifetime or profess any genuine feelings of love for this son.
Seesawing between funny and sad, one of the saddest moments in the play is when Ben’s children try to recall a fond memory of their life with father. There is none. Yet, one cannot minimize the comedy created here. The audience laughs out loud and often is quite stunned to hear the language and subject matter presented so frankly in this comedy. The play opened Off Broadway in 2011 moved to Broadway in 2012.
Matt Austin directs the New Milford production seamlessly from one quick scene to the next all the way through the play. He has gathered a fine cast to portray these misfit characters. Bill Hughes as Ben delivers a totally engrossing character. Just as soon as one wishes someone would speak kindly of the father, Hughes lashes out with one of Ben’s insults, putting the character in his proper abrasive place.
Jody Bayer is terrific as wife and mother Rita. She is excruciatingly funny in her hurtful treatment of every member of her family. She plays the mother who continually puts down her children. Joseph Russo as Curtis steps into the mind of his character and presents a lonely man looking for someone to connect to. Courtney Brooke Lauria as Lisa is sassy sad. Jim Hipp as the actor/realtor does a fine job, as does Beth Young who plays the nurse.
Bill Hughes and Matt Austin designed the rotating set, which moves from hospital to apartment complex. Tom Libonate designed the sound and Richard Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski designed the lighting. Overall, this is definitely a winter blues picker-upper.
It plays through March 14. Box office: 860-350-6863 or visit theatreworks.us.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]