The Lyons may not be Nicky Silver’s best work about a monstrous mom who tears her heirs out by the roots (that would be Pterodactyls or Raised in Captivity). But it is the one that stars Linda Lavin, the main reason this Vineyard Theatre production moved to Broadway. Playing the ice-cold, blithely cruel matriarch Rita Lyons, Lavin makes a tidy meal of Silver’s play, cutting her husband and children to shreds with a drawled riposte or a wide-eyed bit of mugging as if to say, “Aren’t I just awful? Well, so what?” And she’s not the only one shining: As with most Off Broadway ensembles infused with cash and promoted to the big leagues (this season has included seven Off-to-Broadway transfers), the acting is energized and sharper. The larger audience at the Cort Theatre howls more loudly at Silver’s perfectly timed punch lines. But still, does the uptown move (and the strategic deletion of a monologue) fix what was an already lumpy comedy?
Silver’s play (whose dialogue is never less than crackerjack) begins and ends in the same hospital room, and arcs from stasis to movement, but such symmetry only superficially unites a wobbly structure. Yes, the opening hour is delectable: a virtuoso scene during which the Lyons converge on cancer-ridden Ben (Dick Latessa), who’s being tormented to death by his wife’s indifference and his kids’ neurotic selfishness. In the second act, we get a deeper glimpse into the emotional dysfunction of son Curtis (Michael Esper, amusingly tied in knots); a teensy speech from Ben in the afterlife; and Rita brutally mopping up unfinished business after the funeral.
Maybe the message is that failed families should be left to die, and that The Lyons is meant to seem elliptical and unfinished. But even though they are a nasty, needy bunch, I wish visiting hours had been a touch longer.—David Cote
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