Kimberly Gilbert negotiates the transition from pissed off to half-broken as beautifully as any actor—and hoo boy, does Nicky Silver’s scathingly funny The Lyons give her plenty of chances to come at that brittle, vulnerable place. A dark family comedy about a New York City clan with nothing but bitterness and damage to bind them, it’s getting a taut staging at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, courtesy of the sure-handed director John Vreeke. No nerve, fair warning, will go untwanged.
Things open in the hospital room where the Lyons family patriarch, Ben, will soon be expiring from the cancer that’s more or less everywhere. The end has been coming for months, but Ben and his wife Rita (John Lescault and Naomi Jacobson, a couple offstage, as well) haven’t told their adult kids, partly because they didn’t want to burden them and partly because they’re emotionally stunted and as self-absorbed as your average Kardashian. Gilbert’s Lisa—single mom, bit of a daddy’s girl, history of relationship drama and booze—gets to absorb the blow first, because Marcus Kyd’s Curtis—gay, a writer, full of dark secrets—is running late, per usual. Rita, whose briskly efficient manner and cuttingly chic ensemble mask a deep-seated, implacable hatred for the man she’s been yoked to for 40 years, will deliver the news between criticisms of Lisa’s wardrobe and inquiries about the right look for the living room she intends to redecorate as soon as Ben has kicked it.
Silver’s caustic comedies have always mined family for the damage kin can do in their lives together; this one reworks that formula and adds a deep vein of curiosity about the damage we can do in the process of leaving those lives. Together or apart, these people can’t keep from knowing that conventional expectations about what family is don’t apply, somehow, to them—and can’t even start to come to terms with that. Vreeke’s fine cast and a sturdy, unfussy production make for a surprisingly entertaining tour of the bleak territories that takes them to.