2nd Story’s ‘The Lyons’ Sharp Comedy
Director Mark Peckham has pulled no punches for this production. It's intense from start to finish, never letting up.by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
Family dramas seem contagious. You’ve got four generations of a typical American family unfolding at the Gamm, and the craziness of a clan of warring British academics at Epic Theatre in Cranston.
But Nicky Silver’s got them all beat with a cast of completely dysfunctional characters in “The Lyons,” which opened Sunday in the new downstairs performance space at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre.
Poor Ben Lyons is dying of cancer and has just weeks, maybe days to live. But his real problem is his wife and children who have come to comfort him.
Rita, his motor-mouth wife, leafs through House and Garden looking for tips to redecorate the living room once Ben kicks the bucket.
Meanwhile, daughter Lisa shows up, and falls to pieces when her mom suggests one of her sons is “retarded.” Lisa says she has to call her sponsor.
Son Curtis, who is gay, has nothing in common with his father, who doesn’t think much of his son, either. Ben snaps that his life has been a “parade of disappointment,” and Curtis has been the grand marshal.
The entire first act takes place in Ben’s hospital room. And as the family gathers to say good-bye, locked-away secrets get revealed. When Lisa, a single mother, starts talking about getting together with her ex, Curtis betrays a confidence and lets Ben and Rita know their former son-in-law is a wife beater.
But Lisa has her own disclosures about Curtis, in a scene reminiscent of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
After intermission, the action shifts to a seedy condo that Curtis claims he’s interested in buying. But really he just wants to lure the real-estate agent to the property to proposition him. And that was a big mistake.
Ben does die, but not on stage. And afterward, we are left with his survivors trying to pick up the pieces of their lives without him.
Of all the family dramas out there, Silver’s just might be the sharpest. The language is tough, with more than a few obscenities, and the emotional landscape can be bleak.
But “The Lyons” is right on target, and it’s also deliciously funny, thanks to outrageous showings from Vince Petronio as Ben and Paula Faber, who is giving one of her better performances as Rita, the irritating widow who we can’t help but root for in the end.
Both Faber and Petronio play the laughs understated, which only makes the material all the more funny.
And it’s nice to see the return of Lara Hakeem to 2nd Story as the tightly wound Lisa, who despite years in AA, can’t help but slip out for a nip when the pressure gets to her.
Kevin Broccoli is terrific as snarky Curtis, who writes short stories and has invented a whole persona as a together guy to present to the world.
Jeff Church, who was so masterful in last fall’s “Lobby Hero,” has a bit part as the real-estate agent Curtis tries to seduce. But he packs more emotional ups and downs, more insecurity and rage into 10 minutes than a lot of leads who are on stage all night.
Lucia Gill Case is the dutiful nurse who does her best to stomach the abuse Ben and Curtis dish out.
And director Mark Peckham has pulled no punches for this production. It’s intense from start to finish, never letting up.