Cruelty is usually the weapon of choice in dysfunctional families. In the Lyons family this toxic behavior has engendered alienation, isolation, and loneliness in an unhappy foursome in New York. In Nicky Silver’s play, “The Lyons”, however, the mitigating factor is that the unfolding drama is bursting with some of the funniest dialogue to be found on the current Los Angeles stage.
The play opens in a hospital room where Ben Lyons, the family patriarch, is dying of metastasized cancer. Ben (James Handy) is not taking this situation lightly. He fumes and fulminates, shouting and swearing unceasingly at his wife Rita (Judith Scarpone) who sits unresponsively at his bedside. She is engrossed in a magazine that features interior decorating and she keeps soliciting his opinion on various styles. She has let him know that she intends to dump all their furniture and redecorate the house just as soon as he is dead. When he vehemently protests, she urges him to “try to be positive.”
Scarpone, a trim, beautiful “woman of a certain age”, is the clueless, tactless, and unfailingly hilarious star of the show. When her daughter Lisa shows up, Rita inquires about her daughter’s young son, Jeremy, whom she judges, to Lisa’s horror, to be “slightly retarded.”
Lisa (Verity Branco) is, understandably, an alcoholic, but she has been dry for five months. Nevertheless, her husband has divorced her, even though she still loves him and is pining for a reconciliation.
The last member of the family to show up is Rita and Ben’s son Curtis (Chad Coe). He has coped with his unpleasant family by virtually “disappearing”. He hasn’t visited them for a long time, mostly because they can’t quite get over the fact that he is gay. Moreover, as an unsuccessful writer, he is conscious of the fact that “writing short stories is like manufacturing Victrolas.”
Once the whole family has gathered, their mocking gibes reach new heights as the grumpy and mean-spirited Ben continues to berate them all. But when he asks for some candy Rita complies by visiting the rooms of the other patients on the floor. Soon she returns with a bright pink plastic basket filled with chocolates, which she admits she snitched from the room of a little girl who had recently died.
Though this play sounds bleak and grim, filled with deathbed humor, it is also full of plot twists and revealed secrets and the leavening non sequiturs and hilarious one-liners supplied by the bubbling Rita as she responds to her family’s remarks. She and the others are supported by the noteworthy direction of Scott Alan Smith and the creative talent of scenic designer Sarah Brown, who has provided a dismal vacant apartment that Curtis inspects, accompanied by an insecure real estate agent named Brian (Kris Frost), who twitches through the whole encounter. Then the apartment morphs into the hospital room once again as its walls are pushed out of sight and the play moves on without a break.
The Lyons are a dysfunctional family trapped in disheartening circumstances, but with the superb writing of Nicky Silver and the expert acting of an exceptional cast, you will find yourself completely immersed in their story. And laughing in spite of yourself.
“The Lyons” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through July 1 at The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Call 818-761-8838 or visit www.roadtheatre.org for tickets.
Judith Scarpone and James Handy star in the ROAD THEATRE COMPANY’s Los Angeles premiere of THE LYONS by Nicky Silver, directed by Scott Alan Smith and now playing at the ROAD THEATRE on LANKERSHIM.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Young