Dallas — If you think your family is dysfunctional, get on over to Uptown Players’ regional premiere of The Lyons, Nicky Silver’s fiercely funny 2012 Broadway hit about the final unraveling of an already frayed family when the father is hospitalized with terminal cancer. How is this comic? People who hate each other can be terribly clever, and this clan draws blood and laughs as naturally as breathing. Sound familiar? Director Bruce R. Coleman and his expert ensemble deliver every razor-sharp barb in Silver’s hilariously charged dialogue, while also revealing the tender and vulnerable innards of his word-armored characters.
Ben Lyons (a thin and furiously energized Terry Vandivort) is dying of cancer in a private hospital room in New York City, recreated in all its hard light and bland décor by set designer Kevin Brown. When Ben rouses himself from the morphine drip, his wife Rita (Georgia Clinton) is flipping through magazines and babbling about redecorating the living room in “ice blue,” even though “you wouldn’t actually be there to see it.” He tells her to f*** off, that he prefers the old sofa, with its “washed out shade of dashed hopes.” Silver’s sudden poetry pierces as deeply as his immaculate insults. We all remember that sofa.
Back and forth they go, each deeply aware of the other’s soft spots after 40 years of a bad marriage. Both hit the mark with an accuracy that makes you laugh and wince at once. “I’m dying, Rita,” Ben pleads. “Try to remain positive,” she replies, with her triumphant smile, and in her terrifying, take-charge voice.
Their daughter Lisa (a tremulous, tightly-wound Kristen McCullough), a single mom and recovering alcoholic, is an easy target for her mother. On arrival, she is promptly jabbed about her clothes, the plant she brought, and her failed relationships. Ruthless Rita even goes after her absent grandson, suggesting he might be the R-word.
When their gay son Curtis, (a sarcastic and touchingly vulnerable Austin Tindle), shows up, homophobic Ben greets him with cold hostility, cursing his son’s awkward attempt at reconciliation. Ben wanted Curtis “to be a man’s man,” like his own idolized late father. Rita points out that, in fact, Curtis is just that.
The play builds to a crisis in the second act when Curtis’s desperation and self-deception are made stunningly concrete when he meets up with a real estate agent (a masculine, smooth-talking Christopher J. Deaton) in an empty apartment he pretends he wants to lease. The double-edged secrets revealed in this haunting scene get to the heart of Curtis’s sad insecurities, leaving him bruised in more ways than one.
Clinton’s Rita is a smart-mouthed battle-hardened veteran of a long, miserable marriage to a man she never loved. A handsome matron, smartly costumed in Suzi Cranford’s designer jackets and good pumps, she sees her husband’s imminent death as her ticket to abandon the thin façade of any family unity, and fly away, leaving all baggage behind.
Her children, who believe they know their mother’s noxious but dutiful game, are shocked out of their accustomed roles as victims of an awful upbringing. So, where do we go from battered and delusional?
The last sharply delivered scene, while hardly a cathartic epiphany, gives us a glimpse of hope for the hapless. Curtis testily shifts his sore body, and bravely asks the name of the wisecracking cranky nurse trying to feed him. It’s a start. You’ll laugh till it hurts.