The Lyons at the Road


The Road Theatre just opened a new show at their Lankershim location –  The Lyons by Nicky Silver. This play Which originally opened off Broadway at The Vinyard Theatre in 2011. The following season, it moved to the great white way starring Linda Lavin at the Cort.

Scott Allen Smith, the Associate Artistic Director of The Road Theatre Company, directs The Lyons.  Scott is the epitome the Los Angeles Theatre artist working with one of the jewels of LA’s intimate theatres. The Road endeavors to bring new or lesser known works to LA audiences.

Scott, while an accomplished actor who has appeared on stages throughout the country, also works in front of cameras in television and film. Along with his works as a journeyman actor, he is also a visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre at Pepperdine University and a lecturer at Cal State Northridge.  Oh, one more thing, Scott serves as the director of the Summer Playwrights Festival, and has since 2010.

while at one point there had been some discussion of Linda Lavin reprising the role here in Los Angeles “I very much wanted to bring this piece to The Road,” says Scott, “I went after the play.”

Judith Scarpone as Rita, James Handy as Ben
Judith Scarpone as Rita, James Handy as Ben

Scott’s perseverance paid off, and after interviewing with Nicky Silver who sees every one of his plays as an offspring, was given the go ahead for the LA premiere.

What’s very telling about The Lyons, is that of the two spaces that are managed by the Road, Scott  chose to do this play at the smaller more intimate venue on Lankershim. “I wanted to sustain that sense of intimacy”, says Scott. “This is a ferocious dark family that is coming apart at the edges.  I didn’t want the audience to be able to hide anywhere.” The play, which is full of fast jabs and sharp barbs, is keenly felt in a more immediate setting.

“At first glance,” according to Scott, “because Nicky is so funny, the tendency is to go for the humor, but you can’t.  You have to find out what’s really going on with these characters.  These people are real, they have real pain, and the natural comedy needed comes from there, not from trying to hide the pain.” Scott continues, “I think we have a real family here, each with a giant duffle bag of discomfort that they bring out in their revelations.”

A theme that is often ascribed to Nicky Silver is that his works would initially appear to be in the want of an “Ozzie and Harriet” family. yet in in almost all cases, the relationships in his plays fall apart and as Scott says, “some of Silver’s work can almost be described as creepy.” (That would be value plus feature, not a criticism.)

So what is it about Nicky Silver? A graduate of the Tisch School for the arts, he is a prolific playwright who’s works,  Fat Men In Skirts, Free Will and Wanton Lust, The Food Chain, and Prerodactyls, just to name a few, have been mounted all around the US and Europe. In conversation with Nicky, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by his wit and repartee, which is so clearly shown in his works. But underlying this, there are glimpses of the pain we see reflected in the lives of his characters. Nearly at the end of our conversation, Nicky says, “I was put into therapy at the age of four to be cured of being gay. By the time I was twenty my parents were very accepting, but”

When pressed, we get to the eventualities of just how much of this play is autobiographical, and how much of the writer is in each character. Though none of the characters are clear reflections of his real family, there are pieces that we see which are very much the cries of “fix me”.  Nicky says, “Love was not necessarily imbalanced, buy I would say my father loved my mother more than she him.” Going on, “My mother was a bit of a salty gal, she would never have objected to the language that Ben (the father in The Lyons) uses.”

Chad Coe as Curtis Judith Scarpone as Rita,
Chad Coe as Curtis Judith Scarpone as Rita,

Each character is a peek into the insights of Nicky Silver, who also sees himself more a writer in the style of European playwrights, than the “American Standard”.  Nicky speaks of American artists as a whole being somewhat narcissistic in that they describe the world they live in from a personal perspective. While European artists tend to look at themselves as a result of the world they live in. It’s a subtle distinction, but important to the understanding of this play.

One of the examples discussed is looking at the works of great actors, going on, “If you look at the works of say, Robert De Niro, he chooses roles about men who give in to darker impulses, Kathrine Hepburn is about Yankee strength, yet, Lawrence Olivier whom many consider to be the greatest actor, lost himself in his work. Much Like Meryl Steep, we really don’t know about him, we know his work.” So too the characters in The Lyons are more responsive to their lives, than trying to control the world they live in.

The Lyons is a play that borrows traditions from some of the best of modern theatre. What first looks to be a Simonesque look at a dysfunctional family, by turns ends up pulling upon the sensibilities of Beckett, the loneliness of Sartre, the independence of Ibsen. Nicky even admits offering homage to Williams, where in one scene, a handsome stranger offers a piece of gum to Curtis, the son in this failing family.

Ultimately, the choice of this play is as much a statement about the Road Theatre Company, as the characters are about the philosophy of Nicky Silver.  If you’re unfamiliar with the works of Nicky Silver, this is a great opportunity to enter his world. The Lyons is a caustic yet hilarious look at family and relationships. If you’re unfamiliar with the works of the Road Theatre Company, this adventure into the human condition may be a great place to start. FL

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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