This entry is so long overdue; I apologize for being so backed up on shows! Nearly a month ago I went to a performance of The Lyons by Nicky Silver. Put up by The Road Theatre in North Hollywood, I attended the show with my friend Arianne, who is an exceptionally active and participating civilian LA theatre-goer. I met her earlier this year at the kick-off party for the Kirk Douglas Block Party series, and then again at The Road's winter production of White Guy on the Bus. This was right around the time I started going public with this site. We started following each other's theatre journeys on social media and every time I'd run into her at the Mark Taper Forum or Kirk Douglas Theatre, we'd promise we'd try to experience a show together soon. After a lot of theatre trains passing in the night (we would often be at the same shows just a few days apart) we organized a time to see Arianne's friend Janet Chamberlain go on for her understudy performance as Rita in The Lyons.
On our walk over to the theatre, Arianne told me that when she goes to shows on her own, she has no problem talking to strangers she meets in the audience. "I meet all kinds of interesting people," she told me. She had even met the friend we were seeing perform tonight from simply striking up a conversation with her at another Road performance! How cool is that?! In her experience, she has found that many people are very receptive to discussing the performance while in the theater. I was so impressed by her fearless nature because that's definitely something I struggle to muster up the courage to do. So I'm going to try and push myself outside of my comfort zone with that from now on, when I do have the opportunity to attend theatre solo-rider style. You never know who you're going to meet and really, you've got nothing to lose. Although Arianne is an absolutely amazing angel of the American Theatre, this piece is supposed to be about The Lyons, so I will discuss her impact on the theatre community further in another piece coming soon!
OK, so, The Lyons. It had been a few years since I read this script, back when it was originally nominated for a Tony award for best play in 2012, although I never had the chance to see it performed live. Which makes sense, because unbeknownst to me, as The Road Theatre's artistic director Sam Anderson told me, Linda Lavin who had originated the role of Rita, had custody of the rights and had been holding on to them for years. I had no idea a performer could hold the rights to a theatrical script, but there's some food for thought. The Road really wanted to put on this show though, and stuck to their guns until they finally got the OK.
Now, finally seeing the show transformed on stage, I remembered that I really like this play, and this writer, who I definitely need to revisit very soon (but I have to get through all those Anna Zigler plays first). This family reminds me of my own family's dark humor and those parallels make it extra funny. As one of my best Jewish friends once told me, "Irish Catholics and Jews get along incredibly well considering the immense amount of guilt they have to deal with on a daily basis." I'm sure I'm not the only audience member to relate on that level. I like the style of the first act better than the second. It happens in real time, grounded in modern realism, in one scene and we are really forced to get to know this family. I thought the acting was top notch across the board, so much so that it was shocking to learn we were watching an entire cast of understudies. Excellent job everyone; we were with you the whole time. If the regular cast is this great, the company should really consider just double casting the production so that everyone gets equal playing time, because the understudies are really freaking good. My personal favorite was Allan Wasserman as Ben, the family patriarch on his deathbed, who reminded me a lot my very negative yet equally lovable grandpa. The second act gets a little more creative with the scene structure. We watch a thought-provoking scene between Ben's son Curtis (awesome understudy performance by Ray Paolantonio) and a handsome young realtor named Brian (Tim Wardell) that is the only one to take place outside the hospital. We also get a soliloquy-type visit from Ben, who has now passed away, not surprisingly. There's a bit of subtextual commentary going on about eventually becoming our parents. And mostly in a negative way. Arianne and I, with about a thirty year age difference between the two of us, had very differing views and interpretations on the outcome of Rita, the matriarch's trajectory at the end of the play; I just love that about the theatre! It's interesting how every glimmer of positivity in this play kind of gets shut down, and it is a humorous experience when that happens. I think one of the reasons I really like this play is because each of the characters is seeking something from one of their other family members, that they will essentially never get. Attention, approval, admiration, quality time, support; it's just not happening. And I can definitely relate to that. It's frustrating. That frustration invites dramatic action. So, going forward, not only will I try to keep myself from entering into family engagements begging for this type of attention, but enter honoring everyone else for their crazy crap and what they need to just stand being around each other for a few hours, let alone have a good time. Sorry if that sounds a little dark, but see the show and I think you'll get what page I'm turning from.
Not surprisingly, The Lyons has now been extended at the Road Theatre at the Lankershim Arts Center location through July 16th. Don't miss this great piece of American dark comedy. With an understudy cast this good, you may even want to see it twice. Go with a family member, either to thank God yours isn't that bad, or thank God that you're not alone.