Ben, Rita, Lisa, and Curtis Lyons give the Lomans, the Tyrones, and the Giddenses a run for their dysfunctional family money, albeit with considerably more laughter-provoking results in Nicky Silver’s The Lyons, the latest darkly comedic bit of brilliance from The Road Theatre Company, a Los Angeles Premiere incisively directed by Scott Alan Smith.

Terminal cancer is no laughing matter, that is unless the patient’s long-married wife Rita (Judith Scarpone) has plans to redecorate whether or not her husband (James Handy) will “actually be there to enjoy it.” In fact, it might be better if he weren’t. “Now every other word out of your mouth is shit and fuck and cocksucker,” she grouses. “I don’t think it’s becoming.”

Then again, neither is having The Big C, and so Mr. and Mrs. Lyons have summoned their still clueless 30something offspring Lisa (Verity Branco) and Curtis (Chad Coe) to Daddy Dearest’s bedside for farewells and some much-needed closure, both siblings having ample reason to harbor childhood resentments even to this day.

Recovering she well may be, but Lisa’s alcoholism goes all the way back to the fourth grade, just one more shitty thing she blames on dear old dad, and as for Mom, it doesn’t help that Rita keeps asking her daughter if she’s had her younger boy “tested.” (“Well, dear, it’s just that he seems, to me, to be just a little bit retarded.”)

As for Lisa’s grown-up baby brother, not only has he changed his name from Hilly (his grandfather’s) to Curtis if only to piss off Dad, he’s been careful to keep boyfriend Peter far away from Rita and especially Ben, who once threw away his nine-year-old son’s Judy Garland At Carnegie Hall album and replaced it with The Ballad Of The Green Berets.

Playwright Silver mines comedic gold from Ben’s foul mouth, Rita’s self-absorption, Lisa’s failed marriage, and Curtis’s failed everything (at least as far as his father is concerned) while keeping all four sufficiently rooted in reality that when things turn dramatic as they eventually do, it doesn’t feel like an entirely different play.

Silver’s gift for one-liners would do credit to another N.S., but unlike Mr. Simon’s kinder, gentler Odd Couple or Sunshine Boys, the Lyons are more likely to provoke laughter out of shock then surprise, and despite their sheer horribleness, they can’t help but inspire admiration for their resiliency, even in the face of death.

Never is this truer than it is for the fabulous Scarpone as a woman who’s not about to let a little thing like freedom from a miserable marriage and two disappointing children get her down.

Handy plays Ben with unrestrained nastiness (in every sense of the word) and we love him for it, or at least for the joie-de-mourir he brings to every one of Ben’s foul-mouthed jabs.

Branco’s terrific Lisa goes on her own emotional rollercoaster ride, the dynamic Kris Frost shows up as a realtor to gut-punching effect, and Liz Herron takes a role that seems at first peripheral (Ben’s sarcastic nurse) and turns it into the The Lyons’ missing heart.

Still, if there’s any performance to be singled out, it is Coe’s riveting turn as the quietly (and then not-so-quietly) damaged Curtis, who makes us laugh, recoil, and ultimately want to embrace this wounded soul.

Scenic designer Sarah B Brown’s set seems at first to be nothing more than a vacant, rundown apartment, that is until it reveals one humdinger of a surprise. Add to that Derrick McDaniel’s vivid lighting, Mary Jane Miller’s just-right costumes, David B. Marling’s pitch-perfect sound design, and Christine Joëlle and Amy Stoch’s carefully selected props and you’ve got intimate theater production design at its best. Matt Glave scores points too for some realistic fight choreography.

Amy Tolsky (pictured) alternates with Herron as the Nurse. Elizabeth Kimball, Ray Paolantonio, Tim Wardell, and Allan Wasserman are understudies.

The Lyons is produced by Jennifer Finch. Kimberly Alexander and Ben Theobald are associate producers. Kailee Rogers is assistant director and Melelani Satsuma is second assistant director. Maurie Gonzalez is stage manager.

Having once again proven itself tops in dramatic fare with The Play About The Baby, White Guy On The Bus, and Little Children Dream Of God, The Road Theatre closes its current season with a serio-comic dazzler.

I generally tend to avoid folks like the Lyons like the plague. On stage at the Road, however, it’s a whole other story.

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The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Bl., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
May 12, 2017
Photos: Michèle Young


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