Ifthis review reads as a tribute to Linda Lavin, so be it. Considering that I must be one of the last remaining people who saw her in the short-lived 1966 musical Itís A Bird, Itís A Plane, Itís Superman. produced and directed by Harold Prince. I remember I enjoyed the musical very much, (I was a kid then and didnít ask for much). I remember Jack Cassidy was in it and that a perky brunette (a then-unknown named Linda Lavin) played his assistant, ďSydney." Her effervescence and energy were so unique that she left an indelible mark in my mind. I really donít remember anyone else in the show. Over the years, Ms. Lavin has played a myriad of roles on Broadway and I have seen her in all of them. She has always been consistent and played her parts with conviction. However, with this role in Nicky Silver's The Lyons, and her two previous outings, Other Desert Cities and Collected Stories, Ms. Lavin has joined the pantheon of stage actresses (Zoe Caldwell, Rosemary Harris, Maureen Stapleton, Colleen Dewhurst and Margret Leighton) that make each role a moment in the theater to remember for a lifetime.
Set in a New York City hospital, Rita Lyons (Ms. Lavin) is sitting at the bedside of her husband, Ben Lyons, (Dick Latessa), who is dying of cancer, and she is leafing through a magazine trying to decide how to redecorate the living room. Rita and Ben have known about the cancer for months but have just told their daughter, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant), a divorcee with two children and a recovering alcoholic, and Curtis (Michael Esper), the gay son who is a writer of short stories. The children have just been informed of their fatherís condition and that the end is near. As Rita says, ďWe didnít want to tell you because it would only upset you and what could you have done about it?Ē This is the kind of family we are dealing with.
Despite the subject matter, Mr. Silver has written an engaging and extremely funny first act. It is an interesting play about the proverbial damaged family, but with a twist. The first act is hysterical and clever, and one canít wait for Act Two to begin and see where the show takes us. The first scene of Act Two belongs to Lisa, the daughter, at an AA meeting, and the second scene belongs to Curtis, the son, looking at an apartment. Both scenes are disappointing and unnecessary, but discussing them in any detail would spoil the story. Act Two could have started with the third scene (as I called it, "the twist") and explained itself a bit more, and that would have been the basis of the show: compact, direct, and unmired with the extemporaneous material in the previous two scenes.
Ultimately, the show is about abandonment and who is going to leave who first. Be it through death, divorce, imagined relationships, or just walking out and looking out for yourself, someone will walk and someone will be left behind. This is life.
Ms. Lavinís Rita is both the abandoned and the abandonee, and what she does with herself is the twist, and she is sheer perfection. From the tone in her voice to her body position, every movement or gesture speaks volumes. She has so perfected her craft as an actress that one just sits and relishes every eye roll, hand gesture, toss of the head and stance. Mr. Latessa, a veteran of the stage, as Ben, plays it to the hilt in the most cantankerous of ways. He relishes insulting his family and death would be a better existence than having to spend another day with them. Mr. Esper continues delivering interesting performances, and he is definitely a young actor to keep an eye on. However, Ms. Grant starts out very good but her part runs out of steam by Act Two and she comes off as a stock character.
Mark Brokaw, an accomplished director, does a great job with his cast in Act One and the end of Act Two. However, he misses in the first two scenes of Act Two. As the director, he should have known that the first two scenes in Act Two were unnecessary, bogged down the proceedings, and could have been deleted. Instead, by giving Curtis (Mr. Esper) a few lines of explanation in the third scene of Act Two, the playwright and director could have eliminated 20 minutes of turgid, soap-opera-style melodrama and would have a brilliant, tightly knit play, and turned the ending into a knockout punch. Published October 11, 2011
Reviewed at performance on October 9, 2011