Play: The Lyons
Company: Max & Louie Productions
Venue: COCA Black Box Theater, 524 Trinity Ave.
Dates: Aug. 30 and 31, Sept. 1
Tickets: $25-$30; 795-8778 or maxandlouie.com
Story: Ben Lyons is dying of cancer, and is confined to a Manhattan hospital room. His wife of 40 years, Rita, sits in a chair by his bedside, thumbing through a magazine. He asks about his adult daughter Lisa, a recovering alcoholic; but couldn’t care less about his gay son, Curtis. These are the Lyons. They’re a New York City Jewish family, and they are highly dysfunctional.
Ben has had cancer for quite a while, but Rita only recently told their children so as not to worry them. When Lisa and Curtis arrive at the hospital, they’re shocked to learn how little time Ben has left. Let the brawls begin anew.
Highlights: Despite a lengthy and successful career as a playwright, The Lyons marked Nicky Silver’s Broadway debut when it opened in 2012. It’s scheduled to make its first London appearance in September, just after this sparkling presentation by Max & Louie Productions concludes its St. Louis premiere.
This local rendition marks the first theatrical collaboration of actor Bobby Miller and director Wayne Salomon in 26 years. It’s a splendid reunion, a tantalizing theatrical treat for an audience to benefit from the wealth of dramatic knowledge that the duo brings to the stage.
Salomon’s direction is both nurturing and democratic, an important distinction in that Silver’s work is surprising in its complexity and scope and requires a director who can navigate it successfully through myriad nuances. So, while Miller (as Ben) is a compelling and hilarious presence in Act I, his character gives way in the second act to his wife and children.
Miller depicts Ben as irascible and uncompromising, hanging on dearly to his narrow world view even as the end approaches. Judi Mann makes the most of her colorful character, Rita, a woman who reveals shocking truths about her life during the play’s two acts and two hours.
Meghan Maguire’s emotions can turn on a dime as the fragile Lisa. She’s alternately protective of her father, angry at the late word of his condition delivered by her mother and defensive of her own children’s upbringing. As Curtis, Charlie Barron has the burden of proof to bear at the start of the work’s second act (when it veers from rollicking comedy to dark drama), which he carries off with considerable aplomb.
The Lyons is deceptively deep and provocative in ways you won’t expect. It’s engaging and rewarding theater.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.