Despite solid performances from Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa, The Lyons is a lost cause before the curtain closes on the first act, and there's no improvement thereafter. A fumbling and confused script by Nicky Silver is the production's greatest weakness, but some forced and postured performances don't help matters.
Linda Lavin is a powerful and commanding presence with the sexiness of a confident, mature woman. She possesses a firm grasp of sadistic humor, getting laughs with facial expressions and eye movements alone, and her first scene with Dick Latessa would have you think that you were in for an enjoyable dark comedy. Lavin and Latessa have a twisted chemistry and establish a comic rhythm that the production's other players are never quite able to jump into. Latessa attaches himself to his hospital bed with more than an IV, creating a believable deathbed atmosphere without weighing too heavily on the vicious comedy he and Lavin do so well. Kate Jennings Grant isn't able to do much with the little she's given by Silver's poorly fleshed-out character and seems perpetually uncomfortable on stage, grasping for something to lean on. Michael Esper appears more at ease but still gives a very postured performance, suffering from a character that seems based on the author and used as a vehicle for regurgitating his own personal issues and epiphanies.
Whether Silver is really airing his own personal laundry or not, the play smacks of a writer's psychotherapy session put on the page in search of some form of catharsis. This undesirable quality becomes particularly noticeable at the top of the second act when there is suddenly an undo amount of attention dropped on Esper's character, making a strange detour from the meatier mother-father story that was dominant in the first act. From there the story just unravels, leaving its loosely defined characters to scatter into their own obscurities. Grant's character is especially weak, being treated by Silver as more of a device than a real person, a thankless role with incredibly unnatural dialogue. In the end we are left with some half-formed characters and a vague semblance of a muddled message. Director Mark Brokaw does his best to manage this disaster but can't bring to the stage what doesn't exist on the page.
Fans of Linda Lavin going specifically to see her performance will not be disappointed, but the play itself is nothing to get excited about. When you think of all the great productions that have come to town out of Chicago and London over the past five years, it seems New York must have something home-grown more worthy of Broadway. - C. Jefferson Thom
Cort Theatre: 138 West 48th Street
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.