The regional premiere of Nicky Silver’s The Lyons attempts to put the “fun” in “dysfunctional family comedy,” and on the surface it appears to succeed. But dig past the shocking insults and there’s little holding this shallow script—which swings wildly between crude comedy and overwrought melodrama—together. Add in a cast where each actor seems to be starring in his or her own unrelated play, and the result is a poor man’s August: Osage County.
It begins promisingly enough, with Rita Lyons (the glorious Georgia Clinton) holding vigil at her husband’s hospital bedside as he’s dying of cancer. Yes, “dying of cancer” is a promising start in the world of this dark comedy.
For Rita, his impending death is an opportunity to cast off the shackles of her toxic family and start fresh. As she prattles on about her chance to redesign the living room after Ben (Terry Vandivort) is gone, it becomes clear that this couple has been locked in a hate-hate relationship for 40 years. As such, they have a rhythm, a back-and-forth patter that Ben is only too happy to mix up with expletives and brutal honesty now that his time is almost up. He wonders if he’s headed for hell, to which Rita dismisses as a “grandiose” question. “You’re a little man, with little sins,” she scoffs. The delightfully offensive opening scene between Clinton and Vandivort is, sadly, the highlight of Bruce R. Coleman’s direction of an uneven play.
Adult daughter Lisa (Kristen McCullough) arrives, toting a sad-looking plant and—much to her mother’s annoyance—no candy. Lisa is a single mother and recovering alcoholic, constantly chasing the wrong men and paying the price for it. Son Curtis (Austin Tindle) appears, with a bigger plant and not much sympathy for his dying father, who is openly homophobic against his gay son. All together in the same room, they launch into decades-old fights and competitions, castigating each other with glee.
It’s here that the family rhythm screeches to a halt, and Silver’s banal dialogue reaches its peak. The comfortable jabbering enjoyed by Rita and Ben dissipates into disjointed conversations propped up by awkward reactions, most egregiously by Tindle as the socially sullen Curtis. When McCullough returns from “getting some fresh air” with an audible slur, her drunkeness makes it even more difficult to discern what motivates her Lisa. Does she really seek reconciliation with these wicked people? Or does she just want a safety net, however spiky, to catch her after each bad decision? It’s as unclear as her diction.
Act two turns the tables (Kalita Humphreys joke!) on Curtis, who is escaping Daddy Deathwatch to check out an apartment he’s considering buying with his parents’ allowance (he’s a writer, after all). Brian, the preppy, pretty-boy agent played by Christopher J. Deaton, doesn’t sense early enough that something’s off about Curtis, who gives off a serious serial-killer vibe. The more secrets that are revealed about each of the men in this not-so-chance appointment, the further this act feels from the one that preceded it. It’s almost as if Silver has written two separate plays.
The final scene, back in the bland hospital room designed by Kevin Brown and lit by Lisa Miller, attempts to bring everything full circle. An absurd detour ultimately dashes all hope of that, however, and we are left with a handful of noxious people and their repetitive complaints and grudges. Hopefully, that doesn’t sound like your family.