Humor comes in various forms I suppose. Like a number of shows I have seen lately (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, The Motherf*cker with the Hat) the first act of The Lyons is humorous in the way of current, contemporary satire, then shifts gears in the second act. Or perhaps a little sooner. Ben Lyons (Terry Vandivort) the “patriarch” of a family that left dysfunctional behind years ago. He is very ill, and on the way out. He no longer needs to cling to pretentious amenities of polite society or pretend he doesn't despise his wife, Rita, or his gay son, Curtis (Austin Tindle). As often as not, his response to conversational challenges is F*ck you, resulting in hilarity. Nothing seems to tickle an audience like wizened elders asserting themselves with obscenities. (I laughed, too.) Playwright Nicky Silver gets this. Poor Ben Lyons has little time left in this “parade of disappointments” and no time to waste with insipid pleasantries. The Lyons is about a desperately unhappy family that eventually finds some approximation of courage and calm, though not especially with each other.
Halfway through the first act, the father angrily confronts his son with just how horribly he has let him down. Now, frank though this may be, how is Curtis supposed to respond? “I'm sorry that my being gay has wounded you so?” On one level it's preposterous, but it's also impossible. For Curtis and for us. Curtis has nothing to apologize for, and his old man is such a putz, Curtis is obviously aching to lash out. He is clearly restraining himself, but why? Respect for his father? Inheritance? Lack of self-esteem? In the second act, Curtis tries to connect with another man, Brian, he's fallen for from afar, but knowing nothing else. He handles it inappropriately, and the guy pumels him. We can understand why Curtis is trying to get Brian (Christopher J. Deaton) to come out. Curtis himself has lost so much for being open. Curtis is damaged and awkward and for some reason, Nicky Silver decides to punish him for this.
Daughter Lisa Lyons (Kristen McCullough) has had terrible luck with men, her ex-husband physically abuses her. Mother Rita (Georgia Clinton) has been caught n a marriage of obligation. While Ben was passionately in love with her, she more or less reciprocated, but with no intense feelings for him. The Lyons is a pleasant, amusing play, with some keen insight into humanity, but the chemistry seems a bit off. The characters are flawed, that's okay, we understand what makes them tick. But we never seem to develop sympathy for them. The audience applauds when Rita announces she's going off with a younger man, but it's not as if she's lost years to a life of selfless devotion. We might like her a bit more if she hadn't dismissively described her own son as a “fudgepacker.” I'm thoroughly confused by what Silver wants from us. Are we supposed to think Lisa and Curtis are pathetic because they can't simply walk away from narcisstic parents? Silver is like the Old Testament God of Job, subjecting his children to Draconian tests, then deducting points for spelling errors. We want to like this family, but he seems to think we shouldn't. He seems to be groping for remedies to their problems that don't smack of fairy tale endings, but the result feels like tossing bread crusts to the impoverished.
Uptown Players always creates impeccable productions (from stem to stern) with inspired casts. Clinton, Deaton, McCullough, Tindle, Vandivort, and LisaAnne Haram as the Nurse, work well together, and bring a great deal of resonance and irony to this piece.
Uptown presents The Lyons, playingMay 2nd-18th, 2014, at The Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. uptownplayers.org