Cockroach’s ‘The Lyons’ starts out funny and turns out triumphant

Honest laughs: Rose (right) and Parry (second from right) star in Cockroach Theatre’s The Lyons.
Felicia Taylor
Jacob Coakley

Three and a half stars

The Lyons Through May 25; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $16-$20. Art Square Theatre, cockroachtheatre.com.

In Cockroach Theatre’s production of The Lyons by Nicky Silver, patriarch Ben (Daly Parry) is dying. A late-detected cancer is too far advanced to treat, so the family—mother Rita (Anita Bean), daughter Lisa (Ela Rose) and son Curtis (Aaron Oetting)—gathers at his bedside to pay respects.

Silver’s dialogue plays like a cross between South Park and Arrested Development, with swearing and family dysfunction for all, and the cast tears into these juicy lines with zest. Parry, in particular, delivers his caustic imprecations with a gleeful freedom that doesn’t quite cover his terror.

When the play turns from straight comedy, director Taliesin McEnaney could keep things a little sharper. There are moments when actors oversell the humor, when marks are hit and monologues delivered but the characters wind up feeling thin. There are twin moments where Bean and Rose talk about the abusive men in their lives and how bound they are to them—both ladies deliver the monologues with aplomb, but the speeches seem disconnected from the rest of their performance. It’s unclear how all these disparate emotions connect into a greater whole, and how they guide relationships throughout the play.

At other times, the production seems to work against the actors. A monologue from Bean, demonstrating the real horrors of living with these caustic people, gets paired with downbeat music and an abrupt shift into moody lighting, feeling like part of a different production. And a pivotal scene to open Act 2, between Curtis and a real estate broker (Nick Batton), though intentionally awkward, is staged in a way that undercuts its tension. Still, Oetting’s mannered, considered performance stays strong throughout Act 2, driving to an emotional conclusion that winds up, if not triumphant, at least hopeful.

As a side note, while Tim Burris’ turntable set is impressive, it seems overly large for the space. As it revolved into its second location, I worried for the toes of those in the first row.

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