The Lyons

There are people who would walk over hot coals to see Linda Lavin tear into a meaty role.

Rita Lyons - Linda Lavin
Ben Lyons - Dick Latessa
Lisa Lyons - Kate Jennings Grant
Curtis Lyons - Michael Esper
Nurse - Brenda Pressley
Brian - Gregory Wooddell

“The Lyons” opened April 23 on Broadway in a commercial transfer of a production seen earlier this season at Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theater. The following is Marilyn Stasio’s review of the Vineyard staging (Daily Variety, Oct. 10, 2011).

There are people who would walk over hot coals to see Linda Lavin tear into a meaty role. For those devoted followers, that would be reason enough to see Nicky Silver’s new play, “The Lyons,” in which Lavin plays a monstrous mother with the Medusa-like power to annihilate all life forms within range of her tongue. But aside from this narcissistic woman, etched with vitriol by Silver and immortalized by Lavin’s ruthlessly sincere portrayal of her, the secondary members of this dysfunctional household are familiar figures from the scribe’s own catalogue of grotesques.

The basic joke of Silver’s savage comedy is that the characters are given license to speak their private thoughts out loud. Freed from the customary social restraints, the Lyons family members feel free to share whatever thoughts happen to come to mind — the nastier the better.

Popular on Variety

Ben Lyons, the family patriarch played with an understandable look of misery by Dick Latessa, is lying in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. Feeling no need to make polite small talk, he lets loose with all the bitter thoughts and foul language he once censored from family conversations.

Keeping a death watch at Ben’s bedside is his wife, Rita (Lavin), who has even fewer inhibitions about speaking her mind. Incongruously well groomed and dressed to kill (by Michael Krass, presumably with tongue in cheek), Rita is studying a copy of House Beautiful and making plans to redecorate the living room once Ben is dead and buried.

Caught up in her arctic vision of an ice-blue color scheme, she scolds Ben for his disinterest. (“Is it so much to ask? To pretend that you care?”) And when he reminds her that he’ll be dead, she’s honest about what’s really on her mind: “Is it wrong for me to want a new beginning?”

As amazing as Lavin is at playing Rita’s ferocious lust for life, she’s surprisingly touching when Rita speaks with quiet dread of the lonely life she sees ahead of her. As monsters go, she’s rather endearing.

Silver doesn’t pull off the same slight-of-hand work with the two Lyons offspring, who fuss and fight but remain one-note characters. Curtis, the gay slacker son played uneasily by Michael Esper, is creepy but not in an interesting way. And while Kate Jennings Grant plays Lisa, the alcoholic daughter, with conviction, the character is narrowly defined by her masochism.

With little plot and less action to keep them occupied, both children present themselves as sacrificial victims of their parents, who essentially softened them up for the abusive people who would later come into their lives. But since neither one of them puts up much of a fight here, it’s hard to care what happens to them once Rita is finished with them.

The Lyons

Vineyard Theater; 132 seats; $75 top

Production: A Vineyard Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Nicky Silver. Directed by Mark Brokaw.

Creative: The Lyons (Cort Theater; 1079 seats; $125 top) A Kathleen K. Johnson presentation of the Vineyard Theater production of a play in two acts by Nicky Silver. Directed by Mark Brokaw. Sets, Allen Moyer; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, David Lander; original music and sound, David Van Tieghem. Opened on Broadway April 23, 2012. Reviewed Off Broadway Oct. 9, 2011. Running time: TWO HOURS.

Cast: Rita Lyons - Linda Lavin
Ben Lyons - Dick Latessa
Lisa Lyons - Kate Jennings Grant
Curtis Lyons - Michael Esper
Nurse - Brenda Pressley
Brian - Gregory Wooddell

More Legit

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

  • Revenge Song

    Vampire Cowboys' 'Revenge Song': L.A. Theater Review

    There’s highbrow, there’s lowbrow, and then there’s however you might classify Vampire Cowboys, the anarchic New York City theater company whose diverse productions . It’s radical, “good taste”-flouting counter-programming for the vast swaths of the population left unserved by high-dollar, stiff-collar theater options. Vampire Cowboys’ raucous new show, “Revenge Song,” is unlike anything else that’s [...]

  • THE VISIT review

    'The Visit': Theater Review

    Director Jeremy Herrin’s extraordinary take on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “The Visit” is less of a production and more of a show. A wordy one, to be sure, which is no surprise since it’s an adaptation by Tony Kushner that, including two intermissions, comes in at three-and-a-half hours. It’s never going to be described as [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content