Linda Lavin made everybody take note of Nicky Silver’s The Lyons by leaving not one but two other terrific Broadway-bound shows to portray the indomitable family matriarch Rita in this icy new comedy. And indeed, she made the right choice – this is one hell of a role, and she sinks her teeth into it with abandon.
The titular family faces a major change: her irascible husband Ben is dying, forcing people that have largely chosen to avoid each other to confront some hard issues. Silver deals with the well worn dramatic terrain of familial dysfunction, but rings some interesting changes on it.
For one thing, Rita may have been a terrible mother, but Silver successfully leads the audience to see the family through her eyes. Sure, she and Ben may have mangled her children’s psyches in the past, but does that make it in any way her responsibility to fix them now? An intriguing perspective, and one that Silver pursues intelligently and humorously.
Dick Latessa is hilarious as the even nastier Ben, spewing venomous barbs at everyone from his hospital bed. Michael Esper has the most scenes in the play as their socially inept gay son Curtis, and he navigates the twisted, darkly comic turns of his erratic behavior with great skill. Director Mark Brokaw shines a bright light on their work, keeping the pace brisk and the tone tart.
In a season bursting at the seams with slapstick, sex farce, and social satire, Silver and company have taken a different, more neurotic road. It may not be the show to make you roll in the aisles with laughter, but it may be the best mix of wit and psychological insight this Broadway season.
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For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.