Few people could play a maternal monster like the one in Nicky Silver‘s The Lyons and make her as hilarious and non-clichéd as Linda Lavin does.
Lavin’s timing is impeccable as ever as she decimates people with words, then follows her barbs with a self-satisfied half-smile that seems to say, “Well, it’s true!”
At the hospital bed of husband Dick Latessa (also wonderful), Lavin’s character seems to be urging him toward death while flipping through a decor magazine. (“You’re just a little man with little sins. . . . What do you think of Chinese modern?”)
She assures her recovering alcoholic daughter, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant), that she should get her son tested to see if he’s a “retard,” also urging Lisa to flirt with a guy down the hall who has “last-stage lymphoma.”
Mama tells the son, Curtis (Michael Esper)–a gay writer with a too-vivid fantasy life–that he’s a mediocre talent at best, which he may well be, but after all, Mom and Pop created him.
And by the way, they didn’t tell the kids that Daddy’s got cancer (which has spread “to the asparagus,” says Lavin before correcting it to “esophagus”) until the very last minute. For their own good!
Silver’s pitch dark comedy–another in his line of acidic dyfunctional-family romps–gives us a clan of disconnected souls, all lonely and yearning, but making things worse for one another via hectoring and putdowns.
The play relies a little too much on the crusty, cursing old person and sassily efficient black-nurse types, but Silver generally pumps his clichés with originality.
And though it seems odd when Act Two suddenly makes Curtis the lead character, it does bring two lovely surprises–a confrontation scene that reveals the depths of Curtis’s loneliness, and a new emergence for the materfamilias, who’s sized up the reality of her life and has made a plan.
A simultaneously light and dark evening of family warfare Silver-style, this is zippily bracing stuff–Oh Dad, Poor Dad for the AA crowd–with a rivetingly funny Lavin.
But shouldn’t it be the Lyonses?