Andrea Torrence – St. Louis Theatre Snob, August 25, 2013
You think you’ve got a messed up family? Think again. Max & Louie Productions closes its 2013 season with a brutally comedic look at one of the most caustic families you’re likely to ever meet — “The Lyons“.
The play begins with Ben Lyons (Bobby Miller) lying in a hospital bed dying of cancer while his wife, Rita (Judi Mann), leafs through decorating magazines. Now that the patriarch of the family is not long for this world, she figures there’s no time like the present to think about revamping the living room she’s always hated, describing their old sofa as “some washed-out shade of dashed hopes” with a carpet “matted down with resignation”.
Ben, understandably cranky and in no danger of enjoying peaceful last days, is sparring back and forth with her when their daughter Lisa (Meghan Maguire) shows up with a plant for Dad, and what seems to be a permanent accessory of emotional scars. Lisa, a divorced single mom and recovering alcoholic is soon joined by her brother, Curtis (Charlie Barron), whom Ben has never forgiven for, among other things, being gay. The kids are stunned learn about the severity of their father’s illness, but Rita, too busy occupying her time with backgammon, rationalizes that she and their father didn’t want to bother them. Under the circumstances, with the Lyons clan all together at long last, a barrage of barbs, quips and pent up resentments soon start to fly. As the siblings betray each other’s secrets, Rita tries to fix up Lisa with a patient down the hall while telling Curtis that she’s never thought much of his work as a writer, and Ben at some point individually tells his loved ones to go fuck themselves. Yes, the laughs in Nicky Silver’s dark comedy come with a bite, but the laughs are abundant nonetheless.
The second act takes a bit of a left turn and focuses on Curtis, who is looking into an apartment with a real estate agent and aspiring actor named Brian (Aaron Orion Baker). Startling events that hint at the extent of Curtis’s emotional impairment land him in the hospital, attended by the same nurse that his father had (Julie Layton). A visit from Rita and Lisa brings a couple of new surprising little nuggets from Mom, and the play ends up closing with what could be, considering this family, something of an optimistic note.
Mann is excellent as the sarcastic, disparaging linchpin of the family, delivering her casual put-downs with a deadpan sting, and effectively bringing out the depths in Rita that Silver’s script allows her in the second act. Under Wayne Salomon’s nimble direction, the same can be said of the rest of this talented cast, who give the members of this dysfunctional family gratifying and unexpected dimension. Miller lobs out his parting jabs as Ben Lyons with gravelly exasperation, and then softens when reminiscing about his own father, and the Rita that he fell in love with years ago. Maguire and Barron turn in top-notch performances as Lisa and Curtis. Maguire is a walking open wound who still wants to get back with her abusive ex-husband, and Barron is a pitiful mess as Curtis, with boyfriends whom nobody ever meets. Baker delivers strong support as the real estate agent that Curtis has his eye on along with Layton as the no-nonsense nurse who looks after Ben and Curtis. Scenic designer Justin Barisonek provides the realistically bleak hospital room and the partial wall of an empty apartment, and Maureen Berry provides the lighting design with sound design by Amanda Werre and costumes by Kevin Reed.
There’s something perversely pleasing about watching this family tear each other apart that elicits laughter you’re almost embarrassed about. Almost. Go see it — it’s playing until September 1st at COCA.