BWW Reviews: Circuit Invites the Audience into THE LYONS Den
There's a moment in the first act of Nicky Silver's THE LYONS when dying patriarch "Ben" is asked whether he is in pain; his response, a monosyllabic "Yes," hardly ranks with any of the brilliantly barbed lines scattered throughout the play, but as intoned by veteran actor Ron Gephart, it acquires a startling variety of shades. As uttered by this gifted performer, a number of insights can be gained into the unfortunate Ben's character: Frustration, resignation, intolerance. If Mr. Gephart can manage that by simply saying "Yes," imagine what he is able to do with the dialogues and monologs that follow.
THE LYONS, currently holding forth at Circuit Playhouse, must have been an enjoyable indulgence for Director Randall T. Stevens. First of all, there's that biting, savagely funny script; indeed, there are any number of works on stage and in film about dysfunctional families, but this one takes unexpected twists and turns (the second act is full of surprises - if the viewer expects a continuation of the cluster of characters spewing poison and insensitivity in the antiseptic hospital room, it just frankly doesn't happen). Then, there's that remarkable ensemble of actors, each perfectly cast.
As the play opens, father Ben is lying in a hospital bed; riddled with pain and saddled with magazine-thumbing wife "Rita" (the hilarious Irene Crist) already planning on major decorator overhauls and finishing off his box of Whitman Samplers (he's only had one piece!), Ben interrupts his moans with four-letter pronouncements (Rita observes that his once "icy stares" have segued into expletives). Ben is losing his grip, it seems - and not just on life; Rita bluntly tells him that the home he loves (though, as he insists, NOT the people in it) is about to change; and there's precious little he can do to stop it.
As Ben's demise looms in the near future, daughter "Lisa" (Leslie Lee Lansky) arrives with a sweet little plant. Like her brother "Curtis," the divorced mother of two ("Chad" and "Jeremy" - nice nod there to the Sixties singing duo) tries to say and do the proper thing, but Rita not only "upsets the apple cart," she stands it on its head by referring to Jeremy as "retarded" and reminding Lisa of her predilection for alcohol.
Next to arrive is gay son "Curtis" (Christopher Joel Onken, who keeps getting better and better), bearing a planter of roses that dwarfs the little arrangement offered by Lisa. Ben doesn't so much mind his "pumpkin," Lisa, but he barely tolerates the son whose homosexuality has been such a disappointment to him (in the summer when Ben suddenly had an epiphany that his son was gay, he threw out the Judy Garland records and replaced them with "The Battle of the Green Beret" and a bag of little green soldiers - and Rita regrets the loss of Garland).
As the play unfolds, we keep discovering characters' secrets, as well as their revelations about themselves - Ben's trying to remember exactly what he loved about his wife (it's clear she's "a bitch," but there's something still there that he once loved); Rita's admission that, though she tried hard, she never loved Ben, yet is frightened of being alone; Lisa's revelation that she still is attracted to the husband who physically abused her; Curtis' admission that his litany of lovers has only existed in his imagination.
It's that second act that takes the play to a different level. We see, first, Curtis pretending to be interested in an apartment, only to be stalking the real estate agent; before you know it, there's an attraction, a fight, and a body on the floor. Then, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (I kept envisioning Julia Louis-Dreyfus' "Elaine" in SEINFELD), Lisa begins by acknowledging her bouts with alcohol, but soon is railing against the donuts. Both these scenes are interrupted by phone calls from Rita, summoning her children to the hospital (but at different times, and not necessarily for the same reason).
Amid all the dark humor, there are powerful dramatic moments that reclaim the humanity of the play: Rita's throwing herself upon the husband who she thinks has died, Ben's moving reappearance in the second act of the play; Lisa's unseen connection with a lymphoma patient; Curtis' overture to the nurse, whose company and presence he clearly craves.
By the play's end, several things become clear. Rita, for all her blunt insensitivity, is about to change more than the living room; she's honest about the future she has chosen for herself and briskly releases the children to fend for themselves, which, more or less, they accept as fact. Yet, all of the characters reveal the necessity for connection with others, and that's a universal necessity. As a friend pointed out just today, "The windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror"; onward, we must go. With Jacob Wingfield as the attractive agent and Taylor Wood as the no-nonsense nurse. Through June 22.