In this taut play, a man is on his deathbed while his wife anticipates his demise. Their adult children have a vicious fight. The son gets beaten badly and the daughter falls off the wagon.
“The Lyons” is a comedy.
And an insightful, truly excellent one.
Linda Lavin (“Alice”) is Rita, a savvy woman who leafs through “House Beautiful,” looking for decorating tips and chatting to her husband. She reels off old stories about neighbors until he explodes. “What the f*** are you talking about?” Ben (Dick Latessa, Broadway’s “Hairspray” TV’s “The Good Wife”) screams in his opening line.
Unflappable, Rita explains she must redo their tacky living room where the “chairs are the color of disgust and the carpet is matted down with resignation.”
When Ben says, “I’m dying, Rita,” she responds, “I know, but try to be positive.”
Playwright Nicky Silver delivers one perfect line after another. When Ben acknowledges that he is afraid of going to Hell, Rita wonders if that’s not just a bit of a conceit.
“Who are you to get into Hell?” she asks. “What have you ever done?”
Rita may not intend to belittle or hurt anyone; she is just calling it as she sees it, and her sort of honesty does not come with a sugar coating. Weary of the life she built, and being married to a man she never loved for 40 years, Rita realizes that Ben’s death represents a new life for her.
It isn’t as if Ben is thrilled either, dying or living is misery to him. His life has been “one long parade of disappointments with you as the grand marshal” he tells his son, Curtis (Michael Esper, Broadway’s “American Idiot” TV’s “Loggerheads”).
Ben can’t embrace the fact that Curtis is gay. Their daughter, Lisa, (Kate Jennings Grant, Broadway’s “Guys & Dolls” TV’s “Damages”) is so jangled by the usual patterns of her acidic family that she starts drinking in the hospital, though she had been sober for years.
Now this set up may not sound like fodder for laughs, but it is genuinely funny.
Lisa, who seems to have the emotional stability of a hormonal 14-year-old with a drinking problem, can’t accept that her parents knew Ben was terminal for months but that they didn’t tell their children until now.
It doesn’t take long for family jealousies to surface and wounds to be stripped open. When a phone rings, Ben says, “God, I hope it’s death.”
As we learn their secrets, one disturbing scene plays out in the beginning of the second act. Curtis’ unhealthy obsession costs him. That scene has Brian, (Gregory Wooddell, “30 Rock” “The Good Wife”) a Realtor, show Curtis an apartment where “if you close your eyes you can see the Chrysler Building” doesn’t flow as smoothly as the rest of the play. But there is a good reason for Curtis to be there and it takes him to where the play needs to return – the hospital.
After Ben’s funeral, Rita drops bombshells on her kids – well, Lisa and Curtis are shocked – but anyone who has been listening to Rita should not be. Her reveal makes perfect sense, and she does it with flair.
“The Lyons” proves that family bonds are not what we always want. Sometimes they are nooses and we either hang from them or cut ourselves free.