This is the very sad saga of the horrible Lyons family presented in a very funny play by Nicky Silver which is now running at The Vineyard Theatre starring the ever brilliant Linda Lavin as the matriarch from hell Rita Lyons.
A woman with a bad taste in her mouth (more on that later) who casually sits, leafing through House Beautiful, searching for ideas to redecorate the home that she hates while her cancer stricken husband Ben (Dick Latessa) lays dying – any moment now – in his private room hospital bed, swearing his head off, hooked up to a drip but not looking any the worse for it. I guess he’s used to suffering, married to Rita all these 40 odd years.
Any moment now isn’t fast enough for Rita whose hateful and hurtful words account for that bad taste in her mouth. She’ll even eat Jell-O to rid herself of the foul taste but it goes much deeper than that.
How nonchalantly she spouts her venom, smiling and commenting with a pucker of her lips or blotting them with a tissue or issuing a look of utter disbelief. Linda Lavin is Queen of the zinger and icy glance that adds an exclamation point to what she’s just said just in case you’ve missed it by laughing so hard.
Visiting their distant father, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant) an alcoholic single mother in an abusive relationship and her brother Curtis (Michael Esper) who is gay and has an imaginary lover or does he? that pays off in Act II when he meets Real Estate broker Brian (Gregory Wooddell) while looking at an apartment – the past returns to haunt all. It’s your typical dysfunctional family at war over a death bed play smoothly directed by Mark Brokaw.
Ms. Lavin however manages to get some sympathy even though she is a bitch with her Second Act confessional – where she explains what it is she has gone through, what she wants for the future and how she is going to get it.
Curtis ends up in his dad’s hospital bed after he’s died due to a beating by the Real Estate guy in a scene that detours from the main play and is quite unbelievable but Mr. Silver has to get the son into that hospital bed somehow for the last scene which shows the son in a better light with his change in attitude towards his nurse (a compassionate and tough Brenda Pressley) that takes the hard edge off the disturbing evening.
It’s not surprising that Linda Lavin chose to do this play over Follies and Other Desert Cities. It’s a more ferocious role and she is in top form as the lioness Rita Lyons.
Through November 10th www.vineyardtheatre.org 108 E. 15 Street NYC
Photo: Carol Rosegg
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