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Scott's Theatre Beat: Reading Between The Lyons

Spring 2012

Reading Between The Lyons

     Ben Lyons is dying and his wife Rita is sitting in his hospital room planning how she is going to remodel the living room of their home.  Not what you would expect of a woman about to lose her husband of 40 plus years but then there are not many women like Rita Lyons.  Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa are perfectly cast as the "loving couple” in The Lyons, an uproariously funny new comedy by Nicky Silver that opened April 23.

     The story revolves around the end of life moments of Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa) and his wife Rita (Linda Lavin) and their two grown children, Lisa and Curtis. The majority of the action takes place in Ben’s hospital room where Rita holds court and comments on anything and everything. Linda Lavin’s performance is mesmerizing with not only the  perfectly delivered dialogue but with the subtle looks and facial changes.  She is very funny and completely believable. Dick Latessa’s long suffering, and now dying, Ben is a perfect foil for Ms. Lavin’s characterization of Rita. Married for 40 plus years, we discover that much of that time was spent in emotional isolation from each other.

     The children also bring out the emotional baggage that they accumulated from living in their parent’s home for all those years. Lisa Lyons, beautifully played by Kate Jennings Grant, is a recovering alcoholic with two children and an abusive husband. Her brother, Curtis, played with great skill by Michael Esper, is gay and was essentially dis-owned by his father. Both children are forced by the impending death of their father to confront the demons that grew in them as a part of their life with their mother and father. The interactions between the siblings and their parents are at times very funny with an emotional sting attached.

     Rounding out this exceptional ensemble with fine supporting performances is Brenda Pressley and Gregory Wooddell.  Ms. Pressley plays the hospital nurse who first cares for Ben Lyon and later for Curtis. Mr. Wooddell plays a real estate agent, Brian, who provides additional emotional grist for Curtis’ emotional turmoil.  Mr. Wooddell’s and Mr. Esper’s performances are very good during their scene in Act 2, which was altered from the original off-Broadway production, it is still out of sync with the rest of the play acting as a bridge to the closing scene.  Given the structure of the play this scene could be eliminated without negatively impacting the overall strength of the play.  The critical dramatic information could be delivered as dialogue during the final scene.

     The Lyons has all of the quirkiness one would expect from Nicky Silver but not in an off-putting way. The humor is well turned and in the end the audience is affected by the emotional sparks that come from the family’s interactions. This is a production that should be high on a list of plays to see this season.

 ©  2012 Scott L. Bennett, Jr.

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