Through Dec. 22
Round House Theatre Bethesda
4545 East-West Highway
Ah, the Lyons family. For a second they seem a not-unusual American middle class family: long-married parents, a partnered gay son and a divorced daughter with two young children.
But then quickly you realize the subjects of playwright Nicky Silver’s black comedy (straightforwardly titled “The Lyons”), are far from average — in fact, they rank rather high on the familial dysfunction scale. Not as bad as the Manson family, but up there.
Making its D.C.-area premiere at Round House Theatre, Silver’s Broadway hit is in keeping with the gay playwright’s tried and true M.O.: gay son protagonist navigating relationships with an unstable sister and self-involved mother. This particular incarnation kicks off in a hospital room where father Ben (a terrific John Lescault) is dying from cancer while his unconcerned wife Rita (the reliably funny Naomi Jacobson) thumbs through decorating magazines. Eager to redo the living room despite her husband’s objections, Rita chirpily reminds him that he won’t be around to see the results anyway.
Shortly the couple is joined by their adult daughter Lisa (Kimberly Gilbert), an insecure recovering alcoholic, followed by their seemingly composed gay son Curtiss (Marcus Kyd) who comes bearing an enormous peace lily. A visit that should be all about the dying father turns into anything but, soon erupting into an explosion of accusations, revelations and admissions. Throughout it all, Lescault’s Ben who never speaks but yells, makes his distaste for Rita and disappointment in Curtis very clear by dropping a barrage of loud and well-aimed F-bombs.
Silver jumps to and fro from biting dialogue to poignantly revealing monologues. His fabulously insensitive characters leave a trail of barbs, sarcasm and hurt feelings, but they also show flashes of insight, vulnerability and humanity. While each of the Lyons is ferocious in their own way, beneath the contempt that holds them together lies some caring. As the good Jewish mother, Rita worries incessantly about her children finding reasonable mates. She also defends her young fiercely. When her husband first guessed that Curtis was gay, he tossed out his young son’s “Judy at Carnegie Hall” album. That move resulted in Rita purchasing a handgun.
Skilled director John Vreeke has assembled an exceedingly agile group of actors. As Curtis, Kyd gives a nuanced performance. When with the family, he comes off comparatively restrained. Gilbert’s wonderfully messy Lisa, lonely but hopeful, is the family’s most sympathetic member. But it’s far from their parents that the siblings reveal the most — Lisa more appropriately at an AA meeting. But Curtis lets his guard down looking at apartments with a disarming real estate agent played most affectively Brandon McCoy. The results are disastrous. Silver’s characters act out in over-the-top ways (the production’s program credits Joe Isenberg with the excellent fight choreography), but in terms of feelings they’re not so out there.
Rounding out the talented cast is versatile actor Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey as a likable hospital nurse who changes from placid to hardboiled depending on the needs of each patient.
The production looks just right. Misha Kachman’s realistic revolving set doubles as a perfectly nice, standard issue hospital room and a vacant, no-frills New York studio apartment. Rosemary Pardee’s costumes are spot on — the Lyons’ taste level is a little off. They dress sort of suburban hip.
Despite his visceral dissection of the family, Silver is hopeful. When Curtis is at his most alienated and broken down, there’s a pervasive sense that things will improve. We seem to know it gets better.