Like a pride of carnivorous lions, the Lyons family is aggressively on the prowl for laughs (underneath the pain) In playwright Nicky Silver’s The Lyons now playing at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre. From the opening scene where we see the Jewish matriarch, Rita Lyons (Naomi Jacobson), prattling incessantly about re-designing her living room while her husband Ben (John Lescault) lies dying of cancer—to the last scene where Rita informs her dysfunctional family that she is fed up and striking out on her own, Director John Vreeke keeps the edgy, caustic – yet humorous – tone afloat.
Forget Ma Barker, Medea, and Mommie Dearest (Joan Crawford), in the “domineering, mean mother” contest, the venom-spewing matriarch Rita Lyons wins the contest hands-down. Naomi Jacobson understands this character’s ferocious will and vanity very well.. As she barks out orders and rages about her family’s dysfunctions and addictions, her every gesture shows that she is in complete control in this family of strong wills and thwarted affections. Jacobson exudes supreme confidence as she strides across the stage.
John Lescault’s dying husband is superbly played as he alternately rages and roars against the life he has been forced to live with his virago of a wife. Lescault adds a very realistic tone of belligerence to the proceedings. The scene where he demands the attention he is due is a standout of the play.
Hard to categorize, Silver’s play never got the long run it deserved either on or Off-Broadway a couple years ago. Though the laughs keep coming in this savage comedy, there is great pain and anguish underneath the lines. I was never really quite prepared for the frequent shifts in tone, and there are some slow patches to still iron out. Trapped in their own isolated worlds of illusion and will, the characters speak as if they have been freed to say whatever pops into their heads and the lonely son, Curtis (Marcus Kyd) and ex-alcoholic daughter Lisa (Kimberly Gilbert) attempt to inject their scenes with spontaneity and intrigue. As the homosexual son, Kyd is wonderful and moving with a strong physical stage presence and is particularly effective in the second-act scene as he searches for a new apartment. As the realtor involved, actor Brandon McCoy hits all the right notes.
The subject of toxic families is nothing new but Silver keeps it fresh by keeping the audience off-balance with the audience never knowing what to expect next. Kimberly Gilbert – so marvelous in Round House’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane – utilizes this element of surprise and uniqueness inherent in Silver’s writing with a very physically busy performance that is replete with frenetic posturing and attitudinizing. Her attempt is only partially successful as there is too much overt telegraphing of emotions. More successful and, indeed, hilarious is the performance of Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey as the grimly determined nurse. Fernandez-Coffey possesses a dead-pan sense of humor with a sense of droll comic timing.
In what is becoming a Round House tradition, Scenic Design is a standout. Designer Misha Kachman has designed a perfectly appropriate hospital bedroom and apartment for the revolving set. Very clean lines and vantage points abound in Kachman’s work. Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills does a bang-up job of lighting the proceedings and Costume Designer Rosemary Pardee parades the perfect attire for this cast of urban characters. Matthew M. Nielson’s Sound Design efforts are particularly interesting – especially his utilization of strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to disarm the audience and increase the unsettling effect of the play.
Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette is to be commended once again for re-invigorating the Round House Theatre with such a fine array of provocative new fare.
Do not miss the madness of The Lyons!
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.