Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Lyons: ☼ ☼ ☼

Bear in mind, Nicky Silver's "The Lyons" is a comedy. But Mom, Dad, Junior and Sis, your quintessential nuclear family, it ain't. Dad's dying of cancer and barely tolerates his two children, who despise their parents and aren't too fond of each other either. Everyone is lost and one will soon be dead.

Ben Lyons (Will Marchetti), the patriarch, is a foul-mouthed wreck of a man, who is said to be wasting away but it seems more likely his wife Rita (Ellen Ratner)'s prattling will put him away first. Ratner's Rita is perfect. At first she appears to be socially inept, but we come to realize she is just plain nasty, ecstatic to soon be rid of Ben so she can remodel the living room. There is no visible hope for their helpless alcoholic daughter Lisa (Jessica Bates) nor her gay and pathetic brother Curtis (Nicholas Pelczar).

Still, Act One is quite funny: we have hope. In Act Two those hopes are quashed, although we do see each family member make a limping stride or two towards what optimists might call recovery. (Of course none of their choices, such as Lisa's falling in love with a terminally ill lymphoma patient, has a shred of possibility of success.) Nurse Jeanette (Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe) tries to inject a little humanity into the situation and eventually does reach Curtis; Joe Estlack plays Brian, who takes over the beginning of Act Two with a particularly desperate story of his own.

Disfunction does lead to humor. "The Lyons" is funny while you're seeing it but you really don't want to spend much time thinking about it afterwards.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Lyons" Three Stars,  two for the brilliant performance of Ellen Ratner and the third for director Barbara Dameshek, because she drips a little sardonic humor into every show she touches. This is Nicky Silver's first show that made it all the way to Broadway. It's funny and disturbing, probably in that order.

"The Lyons"
The Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through March 8

Monday, February 2, 2015


Normally, we would not post a review of a show in developmental stage, but David Kleinberg's "Hey, Hey LBJ" is already a gripping piece of theater. It is both Kleinberg's memoir of being a military journalist during the Vietnam War and an honest depiction of the lunacy of that war. He plays several characters, including his fellow journalists and the officers to whom they reported, in a time frame that bounces back and forth between 1967 in the combat zone to a reunion of survivors in the late 1990s.

The video flashbacks of President Johnson attempting to explain the burgeoning disaster of this war to the American people are horrifying to watch, especially if you are old enough to remember how surreal it all seemed at the time. In an era when our country seems to be eternally engaged in foreign adventures, it would be good to remember Vietnam and the lessons we all should have learned.

RATINGS: The San Francisco Theater Blog never rates a show in development. But "Hey, Hey, LBJ" is already as strong as quite a few shows we've seen on larger stages. We'll keep our eye out for it and we hope you do too.

David Kleinberg: "Hey, Hey, LBJ"
No shows planned at present