Gander's Avion Players won three awards at the Provincial Theatre Festival for its production of "The Lyons" by Nicky Silver, and directed by Michele Dove. The black comedy follows a family as it deals with illness and contempt for one another.— Submitted photo by Winnie Healey
By Nicky Silver
Directed by Michele Dove
The Avion Players chose a relatively new work for their entry in the Provincial Drama Festival. "The Lyons," by Nicky Silver, is a black comedy about a dysfunctional family that gathers in a hospital room where the father Ben, played by Percy Farwell, is dying of cancer.
The wife is a loveless monster, the father despises his son because he is gay, and the daughter is an alcoholic who takes this opportunity to fall abruptly off the wagon.
The premise of the play doesn't sound very funny, but black humour takes its power from anger and bitterness as much as it does from the morbid and absurd situations it explores.
In the case of "The Lyons," the humour initially comes from the father's belief that, as a dying man, he can say whatever he likes. A man who never swore in his life, he takes to it like a duck to water and the audience whooped with delight every time he dropped an expletive-deleted.
Fortunately, by the time dirty words start to pall, the audience has become caught up in the train wreck that is life for the Lyons.
Son Curtis, played by Nick Mercer, reveals that sister Lisa was a battered wife and Lisa, played by Mandy House, exposes Curtis' perfect boyfriend Peter as a creation of his imagination.
The glue that really holds the play - though not the family - together is Rita, the mother. Played by Annette Crummey, Rita is a tour de force. She talks non-stop at top speed, insulting and criticizing each of the others in turn in the most wickedly brutal way. It's like watching Edith Bunker possessed by a particularly malevolent devil.
The interesting thing about Rita is that even though she is clearly a dreadful wife and mother, we develop a certain sympathy for her.
She has felt trapped by the remnants of her husband's love for her, which she cannot return, and she recognizes what a mess her children are.
There are several unexpected twists in the plot, not all of which worked.
We see Ben in the afterlife reunited with his own beloved father, his reward perhaps for not totally hating Rita.
Curtis has a disastrous encounter with a man he has been stalking which results in his ending up taking over the empty bed in his father's hospital room.
But once we are back in the hospital, with the same nurse caring for Curtis, the play gets on track again.
The hospital room, furnished apparently by the Grenfell Health Corporation, was very convincing, and when the flats were quickly and efficiently reversed we had a grubby, empty apartment in which Curtis meets the man he is obsessed with and gets his spleen ruptured by a kick in the abdomen.
Unlike farce, which is humour for its own sake, black humour tends to deal with suffering, anxiety and death.
"The Lyons" shows the damage bad parenting does, but it also shows that redemption is possible if we recognize the humanity in other people.
As the lights go down, Curtis finally learns the name of the nurse who has been caring for him and opens a dialogue with her.
That counts as a happy ending in a black comedy.