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The Lyons

Linda Lavin leads a superlative ensemble in Nicky Silver's deliciously dark play about a dysfunctional family.

Michael Esper, Dick Latessa, Linda Lavin,
and Kate Jennings Grant in The Lyons
(© Carol Rosegg)
Nicky Silver's deliciously dark and hilarious The Lyons has arrived at Broadway's Cort Theatre, following its premiere last fall at The Vineyard Theatre. Fortunately, the show, directed with a keen eye for detail by Mark Brokaw and featuring a superlative ensemble led by Linda Lavin, has transferred to its new home beautifully.

Silver brings the clan of the play's title together at the hospital bedside of patriarch Ben (given a perpetual sneer of desperation by the comically pitch-perfect Dick Latessa), who lies waiting for the moment when he will pass away from the cancer riddling his body. He's not going quietly though: he's decided to let loose with any expletive that suits him, much to the chagrin of his wife Rita (Lavin), whose chief concern, as the play opens, is how she will redecorate their home after she's widowed.

Silver's ability to find both the humor and pain in this ghoulish scenario proves to be a hallmark of the piece, which can also find the funny in alcoholism and spousal abuse. Lavin serves up the comedy with aplomb, and in a turn where each shift in vocal inflection and roll of an eye just below her thin, sharply penciled brow can speak volumes, she has the ability to make Rita's quips simply zing. Similarly, when the piece becomes more serious, her performance proves to have remarkable emotional depths.

For pretty obvious reasons, Rita and Ben's adult children keep themselves at arm's length from their folks. Rita has an assured knack for disturbing her daughter, Lisa (imbued with touchingly uncertain self-assurance by Kate Jennings Grant), the harried, divorced mother of two and a recovering alcoholic; while Ben is the primary nemesis for his son, Curtis (Michael Esper), a milquetoast fiction writer whom Ben has never forgiven for being gay -- and for dropping his given name, Hilly, which belonged to his paternal grandfather.

After the family's recrimination and revelation-filled reunion at the hospital, it falls to Esper to navigate the most difficult section of Silver's play, which benefits enormously from the excision of the previous opening second-act scene: a monologue for Lisa.

Now, as the second act begins, theatergoers immediately have the chance to see what Ben's life is like when he's away from his family (as well as the depths of the scars he's been given in their care) as he looks at an unfurnished apartment with handsome real estate broker Brian (Gregory Wooddell).

In this scene -- along with the rest of the play -- Esper's performance, filled with self-effacing tics that make it seem as if Curtis is apologizing for his very existence, proves to be exceedingly moving. What surprises is the depths of anger Esper can also call upon in this scene and throughout the production.

Ultimately, when the action returns to the hospital, the play rights itself. Indeed, Silver ends the piece on an unexpectedly hopeful note (thanks in part to the work of Brenda Pressley as the family's nurse) -- one which seems to indicate that healing from even the worst familial dysfunction might be possible.