Linda Lavin could have been on Broadway last year in "Follies," when it transferred from Washington, D.C., or followed "Other Desert Cities" from Lincoln Center to the Great White Way. Instead, the hilarious, acid-tongued star bided her time until Nicky Silver's "The Lyons" moved uptown.
Turns out that Lavin chose wisely.
Playing the ice-cold matriarch Rita Lyons, the actress makes a tidy meal of Silver's black comedy, cutting her husband and children to shreds with tart one-liners or wide-eyed mugging. The bigger audience at the Cort Theatre howls more loudly at Silver's perfectly timed punch lines and the acting in general is sharper and richer.
The Lyons is a tale in which a mother must be incredibly cruel to her children to set them free. It begins and ends in the same hospital room, first where Ben Lyons, played by Dick Latessa, is bitterly wasting away from cancer. The opening hour is a virtuoso scene with the Lyons converging on Ben, tormented by his wife's indifference and his kids' neurotic masochism.
In the second act, we get a deeper glimpse into the emotional dysfunction of son Curtis, played by Michael Esper, and recovering alcoholic Lisa, played by Kate Jennings Grant. After we get Ben’s inevitable death, Rita mops up unfinished business with brutal efficiency.
For all its laugh-out-loud lines, "The Lyons" is not a perfect play, and feels like it's missing a couple more scenes or plot elements to fill out its tragicomic world. So, even though this family is a nasty, needy bunch, I do wish visiting hours had been a little bit longer.