I'm not sure how Ben Lyons came into this world. But he certainly doesn't go out like a lamb in Nicky Silver's comedy "The Lyons," given a rollicking Midwest premiere at the Phoenix Theatre (running through March 31) .
Symptoms of his final cancerous days for Ben include a newfound penchant for expletives and a loss of the ability to bite his tongue when dealing with his wife, Rita, a woman so ready to move on that she blithely monopolizes some of her husband's final moments with thoughts on how to redecorate the living room that he'll never see again.
Maybe the next generation of Lyons will be happier? Unlikely. Son Curtis lives in a world where his illusions seem to operate like funhouse mirrors while daughter Lisa is so used to being treated badly that anything else seems abnormal. They are both adults, in theory, but each has the worst qualities of both children who won't take responsibility for themselves and seniors who have resigned themselves to be who they are.
What's remarkable about Silver's script and the Phoenix's production (directed by Butler University's William Fisher) is how hilariously, painfully funny it is to watch these Lyons reopen old wounds and use claws of all kinds to create new ones.
Charles Goad plays Ben largely from a hospital bed that doesn't seem half as confining as the life he's built. Diane Kondrat conquers Rita, turning what could be a one-note role into a rich character whose defense may be to preemptively strike, but who has just enough knowledge of the person she might still be that she generates an odd kind of hope.
Scot Greenwell and Angela Plank, as the children, have the tougher parts. They get fewer punch lines and Greenwell has to navigate a difficult scene at the top of Act II that takes us out of the hospital room and into what seems like another play. It takes a while to get accustomed to the lack of the elder Lyons but Silver knows where he is going and this unsettling side trip becomes essential to his play’s oddly satisfying ending.