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THE LYONS roar at Dobama

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

A New York reviewer once wrote, “If I have to see one more play about a dysfunctional family, I’m going to commit suicide.”  Broadway and local audiences may be thinking the same thing after being exposed to the likes of two productions of NEXT TO NORMAL, RICH GIRL, SORDID LIVES, SPANK, and SONS OF THE PROPHET, within a short period of time.

Ah, yes, Nicky Silver’s THE LYONS is yet another of those “We’ve got ‘tsuris’ plays,”  scripts that, according to the English definition of the Yiddish term, are tales with problems and angst.

Silver is noted for his “go-for-the-laugh” style.  He writes sitcoms for the stage.  It’s been said of him, “Silver never met a pain he couldn’t laugh at.”  Even the titles of his plays reflect that attitude.  Think…FAT MEN IN SKIRTS, THE AGONY AND THE AGONY, FREE WILL AND WANTON LUST.

THE LYONS, as is true with many of the writer’s works, showcases his recurring themes of the prodigal son as disappointment and challenging the homophobic stereotypes of gay men.

With all that said, THE LYONS is the kind of play and production which will delight many and frustrate some.  Some will leave thinking, “And, I thought our family was screwed up.  Compared to the Lyons, we’re the Cleavers of television’s 1950’s LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. ”

Ben Lyons is lying in a hospital room dying of cancer.  He will not go gently into this good night.   He screams, swears, and degrades his visitors.  He says to his daughter, “Your mother is a bitch,” dismisses his son’s attempt to make peace by rejecting the boy’s statement of “I forgive you for letting me know I was the child you never wanted.” He forbids his wife from changing the furniture in the living room because he was responsible for “every rear-end indent in the sofa.”  Yes, this is a miserable man!

His wife, who states, “My whole life was a long parade of disappointments,” reveals on the day of her husband’s funeral that she is flitting off to Aruba that night with her daughter’s young male Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.

The daughter, who relapses after months of sobriety, has two sons by an physically abusive  husband she met at AA, but for whom she still lusts.  She has found solace in befriending a terminally ill man, who occupies a room on the same floor as her father.  He was introduced to her by her mother.  When her brother objects with the statement, “But, he’s dying,” the mother states, “Nobody’s perfect.”

The gay son lives in a fantasy world of invented boyfriends.  He’s so warped that he is the poster boy for The Great Lie Theory, which indicates that if you tell a lie enough you begin to believe it’s true.  These are not fictitious boyfriends, they are real to the warped Curtis.  As a result of one of his fantasies, the obsession with the handsome young man whose apartment window faces Curtis’s, and on whom he spies, Curtis gets beaten up and winds up in the same hospital room that his father occupied.

Yes, this family has “tsuris” and we watch the pain play out before our eyes.  Yet, due to Silver’s penchant for high humor in an absurdist way, THE LYONS, at least in the first act, is a laugh fest.  The second act sets us up for watching their world crash in bizarre ways.

Dobama’s production, under the smart direction of the theatre’s new artistic director, Nathan Motta, milks the lines for all they are worth.  The character development is generally well honed, the pacing appropriately fast, the humored horror is focused.

Dudley Swetland screams his way through the role of Ben Lyons with such ferocity that it’s a wonder he doesn’t wind up in a real hospital bed with a stroke.  Maybe a little more texturing and a little less screaming might have helped, but, as is, he creates a mean, cranky, frustrated, self and other loathing lout!

Jeanne Task well plays wife and mother, Rita, part ditz, part woman filled with life’s regrets.  She creates a woman who when confronted with reality, says that she wanted to kill her husband, but “it was just a whim.”  A woman who, instead of facing reality, is going to redo the living room in a “calming blue” because “even the carpeting is matted down with dysfunction.”  Task has several long speeches which carry much of the regret of the play.  They are nicely performed.

Anjanette Hall effectively portrays a woman in a sober state of drunkenness, caused by a combination of liquor and depression, which has dulled her senses.

Christopher M. Bohan (Curtis) walks the fine line between being an overly affected gay man, with being a pathetic troubled liar, with nice texturing.  He is especially effective in the forgiveness speech to his father and the scene where he reveals his maniacal lust for Brian, his fantasy boyfriend.

Sean Grandillo gives a nice straightforward interpretation of Brian, the handsome young man who is the focus of Curtis’s fantasies.

Joyce M. Meadows plays the nurse with professional efficiency.

Laura Carlson’s multi-setting scenic design, works well as do Michael Roesch’s appropriately selected musical interludes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  Nicky Silver’s absurdist play, THE LYONS, gets an excellent production at Dobama.  The balance between comedy and tragedy should get positive audience response and inspire some personal awareness.

THE LYONS runs through May 19, 2013  at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.