LATHAM — The promo for “The Lyons” calls the Lyons family “deliciously dysfunctional.” Indeed. Three of the four family members have at each other in the hospital room of the fourth, who is dying and becomes a kind of Greek chorus, more of an onlooker than a participant.
Playwright Nicky Silver has created a pitch-black comedy about the Lyonses: dying Ben (Jack Fallon); his wife, Rita (Carol Max); their daughter, Lisa (Carrie B. Weiss); and their son, Curtis (Patrick Rooney).
We learn, via profanity-laced and very funny dialogue, that Rita thinks Ben should be more gracious about his imminent demise than he is; that Lisa is in recovery; that Curtis is gay, to his father’s disappointment; that Rita thinks one of Lisa’s sons is retarded; that Lisa and Curtis have only just been informed that Ben has cancer and is on his way out; and that there are enough recriminations for everyone’s failures to fill the urn that Ben will shortly occupy.
If the second act were like the first, I would have lost interest in this squabbling quartet, but it isn’t. The first scene of Act II seems like something out of Sam Shephard or Neil LaBute, and the appearance of Ben in the second scene adds a kind of metaphysical texture to the script. I can’t say that I completely understand Silver’s intentions, but by play’s end — when the nurse (an appealing Pat Hoffman) tells the bedridden Curtis that “he isn’t the only patient on this floor” — the striking of an existential bell signaling an existential tragicomedy is heard throughout the theater.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Through Nov. 22
HOW MUCH: $24
MORE INFO: 877.7529, curtaincalltheatre.com
Alex Dietz-Kest, Andrea Nice, and Carolyn Walker are newcomers to the CCT tech team, joining old CCT hands Lily Fossner and Jeremy Ward. Their contributions to sound, set and costume design, respectively, are exemplary.
John Mac Schnurr is also a newcomer to CCT, and he delivers in that unusual scene at the top of Act II, at first a smooth-talking real estate agent who is, during his encounter with Curtis, slowly unmasked. Schnurr paces the unraveling beautifully, and it’s in this scene that Rooney does his best work: the cat-and-mouse play, as dictated by the desperate Curtis, becomes truly unnerving and sad.
Weiss subtly handles the various changes in her character — a daughter longing to prove herself, a mother uncertain of her ability to care for her children, and a former wife who longs for the battering ex-husband.
Fallon is CCT’s funny man, but here he’s more: He poignantly delivers the retorts of a man who knows that the jig is up and who has little idea about what life has been or where he’s going. (Rita comforts him by saying hell is reserved for Hitler and Pol Pot, so he shouldn’t worry too much.)
Finally, Carol Max, CCT’s producing artistic director. Sometimes Rita has the cold charm of Karen in “Will and Grace,” and Max’s delivery of Rita’s repartee and stream-of-consciousness blathering is hilarious. But Max goes deeper than that and, in her final speech, she almost convinces us that Rita deserves the momentary distraction she’s going to experience with a youthful paramour: We only go around once, so who wouldn’t jump at the chance? A finely modulated performance.
Each member of this family sings an aria of need throughout the play, and director Steve Fletcher has enabled all of the actors to find just the right pitch. Blessedly, at the end, after all of the cacophony, there is just the tiniest bit of harmony.