Happily Ever After:
The Lyons Go for the Throat at 2nd Story
by Bill Rodrigues, The Providence Phoenix
As dysfunctional families go, you could imagine worse than the antic gaggle in Nicky Silver’s darkly hilarious The Lyons, which Mark Peckham is directing with ringmaster aplomb at 2nd Story Theatre (through February 9). Gunfire isn’t exchanged, but there are plenty of barbed words and hurtful accusations over the 90 minutes, with an occasional revelation tossed in like a terrorist’s bomb.
Things start out harmlessly enough, with Rita Lyons (Paula Faber) flipping through a decorating magazine, chattering on to her husband about how she’s looking forward to redoing the living room — perhaps a “Marrakech theme.” Trouble is, hubby Ben Lyons (Vince Petronio) is next to her in a hospital bed, dying, understandably not appreciating that she’s gaily planning her postmortem life. “Is it wrong for me to want a new beginning? I’m not that old,” says his wife of 40 years.
He’s not one to calmly express disagreement, even with his morphine drip. While her style is to stifle a smirk and passive-aggressively needle him, we get the sense that his preferred plan of attack would be with mace and battle axe. Ben settles for yelling. The closest he gets to curiosity about how she’s doing with this life crisis is a bellowed “What the fuck are you talking about?”
When he finally quiets down for a moment, he says he’s scared. Her response? She says he’s being “grandiose” to think about going to Hell, to be in the presence of Hitler and Pol Pot. Rita sniffs, her patience running out: “This cancer eating away at you has put you in a terrible mood!”
Talk about black humor! Nicky Silver, remind me to never invite you to a wake.
Despite his foul temper, Ben does and always has loved Rita; Petronio makes that quite convincing in a brief declaration. Rita, on the other hand, is one of those people who knows she can get away with being as self-centered as a two-year-old, as long as she maintains the social proprieties. It’s not just billionaire businessmen who are successful sociopaths.
What sort of children could lurch forth from such a union? A son and daughter who are lucky to have escaped that war of a marriage as mere walking wounded.
Lisa (Lara Hakeem) is either a recovering alcoholic or an alcoholic who keeps reverting and recovering, we don’t know which. She’s left her violent husband but is weakening, thinking about getting back together with him, though it sounds like he’s stringing her along. The best her mother can do to show she’s thinking about Lisa is to ask if she’s gotten one of her sons tested for retardation.
Curtis (Kevin Broccoli) is gay — “a man’s man,” as his mother puts it — and an unsuccessful short-story writer whom Rita has been supporting for 12 years. Somehow the family has never met any of his boyfriends — is he too shy to have any or is he ashamed of his family? He brings his father a potted plant that makes Lisa’s look like crabgrass. Nonetheless, he has to endure his father eventually saying that his own life has been “one long parade of disappointments,” of which “you are the grand marshal.” Whew.
Neither Curtis nor Lisa had been told until now that their father is dying. Any day now. Known for months. Their mother’s excuse? That she’s been too busy to get around to telling them. The offspring are understandably appalled, but after absorbing the news, Curtis says to Lisa that withholding the information was surprisingly thoughtful, considering how narcissistic both parents are.
And with what they have to put up with, it’s understandable that Curtis and Lisa keep storming off. What’s less obvious, and more interesting to work out, is that they also keep returning to this room of death and its disturbing reminders.
Act II opens in a trashy, overpriced apartment that Curtis is being shown by a real estate agent (Jeff Church). We see Curtis’s suppressed rage flare up in a surprising mean streak; later he and Lisa commiserate about bad parenting; Ben briefly floats by, puzzled in Purgatory; and Rita gets her hurtful, unpunished way, as usual.
If human evolution ever dispenses with families, going with parthenogenesis, The Lyons could be an historian’s bullet point explaining why.