Theatre review: ‘The Lyons’ dark, laugh-out-loud production mirrors life’s lack of fairytale endings
5th Wall Theatre kicked off the 2015 Acts of Faith Festival with a sucker punch to the gut. Two days later, I’m still reeling from the blow.
Ben Lyons (Alan Sader) is dying. He is joined in his hospital room by his dysfunctional middle-class Jewish family. His resentful and bitter wife, Rita (Jacqueline Jones) provides endless meaningless chatter to fill the void. Ben’s favorite response to all of it is, “would you just shut the fuck up.”
Rita is unapologetically eager for Ben to die so that she can finally change the living room furniture, which she’s hated all these years. And it’s more than the furniture that she despises. She longs for freedom from their 40-year loveless marriage.
The Lyons’ grown children, Lisa (Sara Heifetz) and Curtis (Lucian Restivo) are a disappointment. Lisa is a less than successfully recovering alcoholic who is as addicted to troubled relationships as she is to whiskey. Despite being physically abused by her ex-husband, she returns to him again and again.
Curtis is an embittered writer who creates a fantasy life for himself that belies an underlying soul-deadening loneliness.
Curtis is also homosexual, which Ben can’t abide.
Many hope and believe that impending death can bring about the chance to mend fences and reconcile with those from whom we’ve been estranged. Ben’s impending death gives each of them, particularly Ben, the license to speak out loud their innermost thoughts.
They are not reconciliatory.
This unguarded verbal war provides for many laugh-out-loud funny moments. But it is very dark humor. Playwright Nicky Silver’s script finds the funny in the most heartbreaking circumstances. And if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry.
In perhaps the most devastating scene of the play, the slightly inebriated audience member sitting in my row yelled out “No!” with a voice of despair. Describing the scene would give too much away. Her response spoke truth.
From the spot-on makeup and the incredible set, to the searing performances, particularly by Jones, who was sheer perfection, everything about this production was exceptional.
The Lyons doesn’t have a fairytale or Hollywood ending. There are no tender reconciliations and stirring goodbyes.
In this it resembles real life.
The Festival continues through April 15.
5th Wall Theatre has thrown down. The game is on!
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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