October 30, 2014
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Hilarious dark comedy at 2nd Story
Paula Faber and Vince Petronio in “The Lyons” at 2nd Story Theatre.

Dysfunctional families are often fodder for plays and movies, probably because so many of us can relate to the subject matter. Nicky Silver has made a career out of writing dark comedy for years on and off Broadway.

2nd Story Artistic Director Ed Shea has brought Silver’s 2012 “The Lyons” to Rhode Island for all of us to enjoy.

The play opens in a hospital room where Ben Lyons (Vince Petronio) lies dying of cancer while his wife, Rita (Paula Faber), flips through home decorating magazines, planning to redo the living room as soon as Ben kicks the bucket. Rita chatters constantly about subjects that Ben couldn’t care less about. He reacts with a slew of profanities and insults that do little to slow her down.

Petronio and Faber, two of my favorite local actors, made my sides ache with their constant banter, putdowns and reactions to each other. Comic timing, whether with words or gestures, is the key to humor, and they have opened the door.

Their older children are called to Ben’s bedside to receive the news of his imminent death, only to join in the insults, revelations and total animosity in this dysfunctional family. Quite simply, they all dislike each other. And yet, there is an element of love hidden deeply in their psyches. Why else would Ben and Rita stay together for 40 years?

Daughter Lisa (Lara Hakeem) has her own problems. An abused woman, she has turned to alcohol and the ability to forget most of her childhood. Son Curtis (Kevin Broccoli) is a homosexual who likes to make up stories about his relationships. Brother and sister both have their own secrets. Hakeem and Broccoli are two of Rhode Island’s acting treasures. We haven’t seen Hakeem in a while, while Broccoli is everywhere, writing, producing, directing and acting.

Life has been a big disappointment for all four characters. They have disappointed themselves and each other. There is plenty of blame and resentment for all.

The two-act, 90-minute play moves swiftly and hilariously under the sharp direction of Mark Peckham, who has become the choice of many local theatre companies looking for the best in Rhode Island.

The second act opens with a scene in a rundown rental property, where Curtis plays with a real estate person’s head, in a scene that sends him to the same hospital where his father died on the day of his funeral. While this wasn’t my favorite scene, it does set the groundwork for a great conclusion to the play. Jeff Church has a minor but pivotal role opposite Broccoli.

What’s it all about? Different people will take away different ideas and questions. I saw a family with deep problems who had found their individual ways, right or wrong, for coping with them.

The final scenes have them dealing with Ben’s death. Rita sees her opportunity to “get on with it,” as do her children. Lucia Gill Case, who plays a supporting role as the nurse, has a poignant closing moment with Curtis.

And life goes on.

“The Lyons” is at 2nd Story’s intimate downstairs theatre through Feb. 9. Tickets are $25. Call 247-4200 for reservations. A warning that strong language is used.


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