Alicia Dempster / OnStage Critic There is something oddly disturbing about a dark comedy. The theatregoer is presented with a situation that is typically considered tragic but, instead, they find themselves laughing at things that would normally be considered inappropriate as comic fodder. Such is the case with Nicky Silver’s The Lyons, now playing at TheatreWorks New Milford.
Ben Lyons is hospitalized with terminal cancer and instead of finding warmth and comfort in being surrounded by his family, he is immersed in vitriol and selfishness. For the first fifteen minutes of the play, his wife Rita sits at his bedside perusing a magazine and openly offers up suggestions for the redesign of their living room after he passes, replacing the sofa that has become a “washed out shade of dashed hopes.” Spouting expletives, his newfound stress release, Ben has made it clear that he no longer cares – about anything. With a couple that clearly lacks compassion or empathy, it is no surprise that their children are equally self-centered.
The challenge with this particular dark comedy is that it is dialogue heavy with minimal opportunities for action. The setting, a hospital room, offers very little room for a director to create visual interest. With one principal character confined to a hospital bed, many of the comedic moments of the show rely strictly upon well-timed line delivery, which was inconsistent in this particular production. When the rapid-fire quips were flying, the comedy was readily accessible. When the delivery slowed, so did the pace of the show. The script is partly to blame, as Silver goes off on tangents that are either irrelevant to the situation or are longwinded.
The cast is made up of several familiar faces and they do an admirable job navigating the verbose script. Jody Bayer delivers a solid performance as matriarch Rita but lacks the edgy callousness the character requires. As Ben Lyons, Bill Hughes is adequately agitated with the horrible people he is forced to spend his last days with. Courtney Brooke Lauria, as the Lyons’ “recovering” alcoholic daughter Lisa, is erratic, appearing comfortable with comedy but less so with drama. Joe Russo as the snide Curtis was a highlight proving that he should spend more time on stage than in the director’s chair. James Hipp as the realtor Brian is amiable, propelling the plot toward its unexpected end with the Nurse subtly played by Elizabeth Young.
As usual, TheatreWorks has constructed a first class set with extreme attention to detail. It was nice to see them use the seldom-used turntable to create a completely different locale for the second act. The costume design seemed thought out in terms of color but certain details were missed. At one point, Rita compliments her daughter’s footwear, stating that the shoes made her feet look teeny tiny when, in fact, the character was wearing boots.
Director Matt Austin has assembled a sturdy cast and when the machine is humming, there are very funny moments. However, with a cast that is comprised of mostly unlikeable characters, it is hard to go along for the ride and laugh the whole way. This is a play that relies heavily on perfect chemistry that happens between a cast firing on all cylinders and an audience with an appreciation for dark humor. When those two elements synchronize there exists great potential for a fun night of theatre.