Linda Lavin is absolutely brilliant as Rita Lyons in Nicky Silver's new play The Lyons now running at The Vineyard Theater. She's the family matriarch flipping through Elle Décor as the play opens. She's busy getting ideas for redecorating the living room while her husband lies on his hospital deathbed. "I'm thinking glacial blue walls," she says to him. She wants a fresh start. A new sofa, new carpets and new paint for the living room while her husband argues, "Those are my stains, my dents in the pillows." Those objections have fallen on deaf ears as she's already decided to move on without him or his input. She's not in love with this man that she's been married to for most of her life. "When I saw you looking at me that way when we first met. I knew I was trapped, " she confesses after he's fallen asleep. The sparks and jabs definitely fly and dark humor abounds especially as her adult children enter the hospital room to bid their farewells to their dying father.
The play is essentially is about family and the blame that we hold on to and seem to fall back on. Rita and Ben Lyons (Dick Latessa) are not ideal parents and it is easy to see where the fault lies for their children's problems - one can't form any real relationships and one is struggling with alcoholism and domestic violence-- but it is time to move on. Rita certainly has and she makes it clear that they should do the same. The play begins and ends in a hospital room perhaps to illustrate the point of endings and beginnings - the end of one life and the beginning of other lives as these adult children are given a spark start again.
It's probably not an easy road to starting over for the kids, especially for their gay son. Rita goes on to tell the story of how one week while young Curtis Lyons (Michael Esper) was at camp, Ben got it into his head that his son was a homosexual. He marched into his room and threw out his copy of Judy At Carnegie Hall and replaced it with The Ballad Of The Green Berets. Rita couldn't believe he had done that. "Oh I loved that Carnegie Hall album and the way she said 'We're going to stay all night and sing every song'". Ben Lyons wouldn't accept his son's homosexuality and goes on to talk about how his own father, who Curtis is named after, would be ashamed of him. Not easy to get over that one I suppose, but the audience realizes that Curtis needs to learn to let go.
Poetry also seems to play a big role in Nicky Silver's play. Not only are Rita's descriptions of their gloomy living room and her monologue on buying a handgun filled with poetic language, but Mr. Silver references the poet e.e. cummings at the opening of the second act. It's a poem that their daughter Lisa Lyons (Kate Jennings Grant) has read at her father's funeral. The Lyons is poetic and witty and under the direction of Mark Brokaw it is a terrific play.
The play is very good, but Linda Lavin is great. TV's Alice has come a long way from those sitcom days with stand out performances in Tales Of The Allergists Wife and the recent Other Desert Cities. It was that role that she turned down when it transferred to Broadway and instead brought us Rita Lyons. A smart move indeed and we all get to benefit. Perhaps Broadway is in the future for this production. Possible producers David Geffen and Michael Kors were in the audience last Sunday. Ms. Lavin also runs a theater company in Wilmington, North Carolina called The Red Barn Studio. A fact that I was made aware of by my father when she spoke at his men's group--he even got her to sign a headshot to my mother. I count my lucky stars that my parents are not like the Lyons, but it might be fun to have Rita stop by for a visit now and then.
The Lyons has been extended until November 20 at The Vineyard Theater.
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