It’s fairly common these days — thanks to TV therapists like Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew and other talk show hosts — for people to proclaim, “I come from a dysfunctional family.”
But if you think your family has problems, wait until you meet the family in “The Lyons,” directed by William Fisher. The show opened Friday, March 8 at the Phoenix Theatre on the Frank and Katrina Basile Stage and continues through March 31.
An outrageously acid comedy about a train wreck of a suburban New York, Jewish family, “The Lyons” is written by Nicky Silver. The play first ran Off-Broadway in 2011 before premiering on Broadway in 2012.
A hospital room is the primary setting for the play. In it, Ben Lyons (Chuck Goad), the head of the family, constantly drops the F-bomb and other expletives as he expresses his anger and resentment toward everybody and everything as he lies dying of cancer.
Rita (Diane Kondrat), his wife of 40 years, makes no bones about her determination to move on with her life after he is gone, even to the point of going through magazines in her husband’s presence asking his input about her plans to redecorate their home. It’s obvious as they spar with one another there is no love lost between them.
The adult children, who are the offspring of this toxic pair and who dutifully show up to see their father, are Lisa (Angela Plank), a recovering alcoholic who divorced the man who beat her, and Curtis (Scot Greenwell), who, because he is gay, is estranged from his dad.
Because Silver’s emotionally-damaged characters are so thoroughly unfiltered when they speak, the audience is privy to the family members’ true thoughts, which are alternately as insanely funny as they are tragic and pathetic. Despite their individual flaws and neuroses, one can still manage to empathize for these wounded souls while being reminded of our own family dynamics — be they healthy or not.
“The Lyons,” according to a Phoenix press release, was chosen by producing director Bryan Fonseca specifically for Kondrat for the lead role of Rita, to honor her for her long history with the Phoenix. This is Kondrat’s 20th role with the Phoenix, since 1988, and her last before she relocates to the West Coast.
Kondrat’s performance as Rita was indicative of the unmatched quality of uncommon talent and skills that have established her as one of Indiana’s premier actors. Her portrayal of Rita is replete with nuance, believable and filled with truth. Whether spouting forth acerbic jokes or conveying fear and sadness, her Rita reflects the artistry of a seasoned actor whose originality and inventiveness show.
No finer actor than Phoenix veteran Chuck Goad could have been chosen to play against Kondrat in her final performance at a theater, where the dramatic bar is set high due to the likes of these two prized performers.
Goad’s curmudgeonly Ben, who verbally assaults his wife and berates and belittles his own son, might have been written off as having no redeeming qualities whatsoever, except for the glimpse of humanity revealed when his character speaks lovingly of his father, who he idolizes.
The always-striking Angela Plank was effective in her role as the vulnerable and conflicted Lisa, whose sobriety is threatened due to her inabilities to distance herself from her abusive ex-husband and to deal with her toxic family.
Scot Greenwell, another Phoenix regular who has appeared scores of times there, turned in his usual solid performance. His Curtis is a less-than-successful short story writer, who uses the baggage from his unhappy childhood and adolescence as an excuse for his inability to form intimate relationships and become independent of a mother who supports him.
Lincoln Slentz, though adequate, lacked a strong presence as Brian, a young real estate agent aspiring to be an actor, who attempts to sell Curtis an apartment. It’s a scene during which a secret that Curtis is keeping is revealed in a most surprising way.
Making the most of a relatively small role was Mercedes Martinez, who plays a hospital nurse for Ben and later Curtis, who coincidently ends up in her care as well. Originally from Spain, Martinez’s thick accent only served to make her no-nonsense yet compassionate character all the more intriguing.
The set, which consists of a hospital room and an adjacent room of an empty apartment, was extremely well-crafted by Bryan Fonseca and Nolan Brokamp and appointed by Ashley Kiefer, who selected the props and costumes. The lighting design is by Laura Glover, and the production’s sound design, which incorporates songs by Barbra Streisand, is by Tim Brickley.
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