Review: A play to die for: ISIS Productions stages ‘The Lyons’ by Nicky Silver

Jon Zak and Renee Richman-Weisband in “The Lyons”. Photo by Kristine Di Grigoli

By Margaret Darby

Neill Hartley was the perfect choice to direct Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons” for ISIS Productions because he is also an actor who tours in one-man shows and has learned the secret to comic delivery: it’s all in the timing. The witty and pointed zing of Philly-raised Nicky Silver’s dialogue writing requires a comedian’s sense of timing to have both a cynical and comic effect simultaneously.

Jon Zak, who plays the moribund father, Ben Lyons, is startlingly adept at timing from his first bedridden bellow. Renée Richmond-Weisband’s character, Rita Lyons, has a less exciting beginning in her babbling housewife dialogue. Her gift in timing is tossing out the most stinging barbs at the end of a long uxorious diatribe, like: “Dying’s not so bad, consider the alternative.”

Rita’s barb is an expression of her true feelings about her husband’s death. She has put her entire life on hold while she waits for it. She is looking forward to her new life, her new living room décor and her new relationship with their two children whom she belatedly invites to the hospital for a touching goodbye to their father.

Kirsten Quinn plays daughter Lisa with a masterful underpinning of histrionics, angst, and anger. Her mother greets her with a venomous jibe: “Have you had Jeremy tested?” Jeremy is Lisa’s child and the implication that he may be mentally challenged causes her to become hysterical and speed dial her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.

Curtis comes to the hospital reluctantly, knowing his father hates him for being homosexual. He is dreading seeing his parents, who never approve of anything he does. Kyle Fennie gives Curtis a vociferous yet resigned hostility towards his parents and his sister.

Curtis and Lisa have endured their parents together, but this has not made them bond, and, under pressure, they reveal each other’s secrets. The secrets are embarrassing and therefore titillating, but the real revelation is that each of them is still desperately looking for love.

The family is so chaotic and each character so self-centered that they pretty much forget why they came to the hospital. Enter the nurse, played with an empathetic yet brisk bedside manner by Meg Trelease, who dispenses more wisdom than medicine. Her character is the Moliere-like philosopher of the play and Trelease did a tremendous job of playing the role without fuss or fanfare, quietly planting down-to-earth seeds of sanity in the family’s barren emotional landscape.

The set was ingeniously simple – a hospital bed and chairs and accouterments are converted to covered furniture in an apartment and quickly brought back into place for the finale.

The play is strangely uplifting, in spite of — or perhaps, because of, the selfish and cold natures revealed in Nicky Silver’s dialogue. The extreme absurdity of this family situation make you feel that whatever you have to deal with when you come home will be ten times easier than living with “The Lyons”.

If you go: “The Lyons” is at the Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 5 at 825 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. through April 2. Tickets are $25, $15 for students and $20 for groups of ten or more. For information and reservations, call 609-220-7537 or visit isisperforms.com.

Pictured (l-r) are Kyle Fennie, Renee Richman-Weisband and Jon Zak in a scene from “The Lyons”. Photo by Kristine Di Grigoli