The Lyons

Newspaper Review

Judith Newmark – St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 24, 2013

A dysfunctional family squabbles on in ‘The Lyons

Together for what seems to be the first time in a long while, four members of a family are spilling all their secrets. Nicky Silver’s play “The Lyons” — shrewdly directed by Wayne Salomon for “Max & Louie” productions — is like a family photo sitting crooked in an heirloom frame. You can see how it’s supposed to fit, but it’s wrinkled and stuck at the corners. You’ll never straighten it out without tearing the whole thing to pieces.

But in this dark, undomesticated comedy, the Lyons are willing to risk it. Ben Lyons (Bobby Miller), cursing and complaining as he dies of cancer in a hospital bed, listens to his manicured wife, Rita (Judi Mann), making plans to redecorate their living room. He doesn’t like her ideas but, as she blandly reminds him, he’s never going to see it.

Soon their troubled daughter, Lisa (Meghan Maguire), and equally mixed-up son, Curtis (Charlie Barron), come to visit. As usual, they’ve brought all their emotional baggage — which they proceed to unpack on the spot.

That’s the first act, really a whole play in itself. In the second act, Curtis looks at a condo with a real estate agent (Aaron Orion Baker), and then we’re back to the hospital room where the Lyons are superintended by a nurse (Julie Layton) who’s seen it all. Set designer Justin Barisonek lets everything play out on a set realistic enough to ground the narrative extravagance, and well-engineered for the small stage.

The secret of Silver lies in how he pushes things too far, every time — but never breaks the threads that connect his characters to reality. Salomon has a deft touch with that kind of marginal surrealism. He makes sure that no matter what anybody says, the actors deliver their lines in the rhythms of ordinary conversation.

They also deliver them in the accents of Jewish New Yorkers, which we tend to associate with comedy. That’s a welcome clue because you often find yourself appalled and laughing at the same time. Those accents, hinting at a culture that relishes that kind of conflict, give us permission for both.

Salomon also has the actors who can strike the delicate balance. Miller and Mann make a dream couple, persuasively squabbling in the present tense, haunted by a past that they remember differently.

Drugged and maybe confused, Ben tells his son that when he looks at Rita, he remembers who she was. But he can’t. But he does. Miller, snorting the lines on the verge on intelligibility, suddenly captures the angst and deception of memory, whether marred by illness or not.

In another conversation, Rita calmly recounts a particularly nightmarish tidbit of Lyons history, truly shocking the others. When they ask how it could have happened, Mann shrugs and says, “It was a whim,” as if she were talking about a time she changed her hairstyle.

With that, she reduces the horrible to the manageable — which is maybe as good a description of the challenges of motherhood as a writer could provide. The whole cast is topnotch. But with their down-to-earth approach to life’s outlandish demands, Miller and Mann turn into the Lyons’ hearts.