For such a slight show, Man in a Case packs an extraordinary amount into its 75-minute running time, beginning with a heated discussion on the best way to kill a turkey (timely, given the time of year) and ending with a heartbreaking, mostly wordless exploration of the transience of love and life. And yes, Mikhail Baryshnikov dances, although perhaps not in a way that does justice to his status as the greatest ballet performer of our time.
The show, adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar and choreographed by Parson, is based on two short stories by Chekhov: the titular tale of a repressed and fearsome schoolmaster, and “About Love,” in which a man recalls how he fell in love with a married woman, only to lose her forever. Parson and Lazar have taken both and crafted a sensational fusion of music, movement, video, and sound that demonstrates how captivating experimental theater can be, both incorporating the elements of traditional storytelling and surpassing them altogether.
Baryshnikov plays Belikov, a teacher of Greek at odds with modernity who terrifies his colleagues while also attempting to be cordial to them. The production is broken into chapters with the titles projected onstage; in “The Faculty Meeting” a video shows schoolgirls congregating around a staircase on an endless loop, and in “The Visit,” Baryshnikov’s face is filmed and simultaneously projected so that it appears like the video link from a doorbell’s security camera. The show says more about surveillance and paranoia in a few scenes than most pundits can communicate in thousands of words—Belikov retires to his house, where the door has a comical number of bolts on it, and then enshrines himself away from the world in a rectangular bed surrounded by white drapes. “By forever praising the past, he was simply trying to justify his horror of reality,” says a narrator.
Baryshnikov’s voice might be faint, even with the microphone he wears, but his physicality is, unsurprisingly, magnetic. He tumbles backward down a staircase with the grace of a cat, and his extraordinarily expressive face communicates all the radically novel feelings Belikov has when he encounters the free-spirited Barbara (the versatile Tymberly Canale). Projections accompanied by the unmistakable rasp of a Polaroid camera reveal him smiling throughout their courtship, a man transformed by possibility. The poignancy is heightened by music director and performer Chris Giarmo’s accompaniments (he sings a number at the end that’s Bon Iver-beautiful), as well as by the incongruous but lovely inclusion of offbeat songs like Carly Simon’s “Coming Around Again,” enhanced by a giant mirrorball that descends from above.
The cast also includes Aaron Mattocks as Kovalenko, Barbara’s Ukrainian brother, and Jess Barbagallo as Burkin, who seems to share narrator duties with Giarmo’s Ivan. Costume designer Oana Botez puts those three characters in red-toned plaid shirts and traditional Slavic costumes, all the better to contrast with Belikov’s buttoned-up black suit and military-style overcoat and Barbara’s pink lace dress. Set designer Peter Ksander hints at Belikov’s barren life by crafting his apartment out of identical leather books and dark wood hues. The only picture hanging is an eye-test poster, in a nod to the character’s literal and symbolic shortsightedness.
“About Love” is much shorter, but no less moving. Canale plays the married woman whom Baryshnikov’s character falls in love with, and their romance plays out from a variety of different (physical) angles, with cameras filming them from the side as they sit at a table and from above in the show’s final scene, their bodies contorting into different shapes like the hands of a clock. Endlessly original, deeply moving, and very clever, Man in a Case pushes the boundaries of what art can communicate and create.
Man in a Case is at Shakespeare Theatre’s Lansburgh Theatre through December 22. Running time is about one hour and 15 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($45 to $105) are available via Shakespeare’s website.
The thing about Scandal is, if these people were real they would at this point all be mentally and emotionally warped beyond belief. Even the characters are starting to recognize how monumentally effed up their world is—Abby last night told Harrison any normal person would be in the throes of a nervous breakdown were their thought-to-be-dead mother to suddenly reappear after 22 years of radio silence. But this is Scandal, and ain’t nobody got time for nervous breakdowns, because there are government conspiracies to uncover and illicit affairs to be had and millennial catchphrases to be used in incredibly disturbing ways. To the recap.
We open on Huck in full-on wide-eyed bananapants mode, monologuing to Quinn, who is naked and wrapped in duct tape on the floor. He’s going to torture her, and he apologizes because he likes her and she’s family (aww), but he’s going to enjoy it even though he doesn’t want to. Then he lies down next to her and licks her face. It’s weird. He decides he’s going to start by pulling out her teeth, and takes the duct tape off her mouth, allowing her to scream and beg him for mercy. But he tells her she didn’t just betray him, she betrayed Olivia, then sticks pliers in her mouth and is about to yank, when his phone rings. It’s Olivia. “My mother’s alive and in my apartment,” she says, peeking out from behind an almost-closed door at Maya. Huck tells her to hang up, take out her phone battery, and get herself and her mother to a safe house immediately. He hangs up and tells Quinn he has to go, but then decides they have time for just a little torture, because, what’s that thing the kids say? Oh yeah, “YOLO, Quinn.” He shoves the pliers back in her mouth, and she screams us to the credits.
Huck goes to the safe house, where Ballard, Harrison, and Abby are trying to catch up on the situation as Olivia sits in the corner silently, holding her face. Maya says she found out she was married to a monster, so she planned to blow the whistle on his whole operation, but Papa Pope found out and stuck her in a jail cell for 22 years, until she managed to escape. “Nobody escapes Command,” Huck says. He tells her she’s got a tracking chip in her somewhere, and he and Ballard muscle her down onto a table and cut out the chip as she screams. There’s a lot of screaming in this episode. Charlie and co. are already on their trail, but by the time they get there the Dream Team has peaced and are full-throttle on trying to get Maya out of the country. But Huck and Ballard know she can’t escape while Papa Pope is alive, so Ballard goes to El Prez and asks him for help. After absorbing that he might someday have to deal with not one but two crazy in-laws, El Prez says he can’t just kill Olivia’s father at the drop of a hat. Ballard brings up Remington and says El Prez thinks only he and Olivia matter; El Prez counters that Ballard just wants to be Olivia’s hero, and “word to the wise, she doesn’t need one.” So Ballard tries to blow up Papa Pope with another guy who used to be in B613, but of course it’s a trap and he ends up just killing four random dudes. Meanwhile Papa leans on Charlie to activate his “asset,” Quinn, to help him find the Dream Team, so Charlie finds Quinn and un-duct-tapes her. She showers, then starts to cry, as Charlie tells her to suck it up. “Huck was the only person I had,” she says, “and he hurt me. Now I don’t have anybody.” Charlie says, “You have me,” and she stares at him, re-imprinting on him like a baby bird. Then she drops her towel, and they make out, which seems like a great idea for someone who just had her teeth yanked from her skull.
National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, head over to the White House Ellipse for the national Christmas tree lighting on December 6 at 4:30. The First Family will be in attendance, as well as performers including the Avett Brothers, Mariah Carey, Joshua Bell, and Aretha Franklin, among others. And if you didn’t get a ticket, don’t worry; the ceremony will be streaming live online.
Capitol, Fairmont, and Union Station Christmas Trees
The official lighting ceremonies may have passed, but it’s still worth your time to go see these trees. The Capitol Christmas Tree, which came from Washington State, boasts more than 5,000 handmade ornaments and will be lit from dusk to 11 PM through the season. The Christmas tree at Union Station was given to DC by the Royal Norwegian Embassy as a symbol of friendship between the US and Norway, and this year it is decorated to mark the 150th anniversary of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
Manassas Christmas Tree Lighting
At 5:30 on December 6, the Merry Old Town celebration kicks off with holiday music. Stay through the lighting at the Manassas Museum and give your children a chance to tell Santa their wishes at the Harrison Pavilion Gazebo. Take a free hayride around Old Town or go ice-skating at the Harrison Pavilion Ice Rink.
Leesburg Christmas Tree Lighting
Join the town mayor at the annual Christmas tree and menorah lighting on December 6 from 6 to 7 at the Leesburg Town Green. Enjoy performances by the Loudoun Chorale and the Loudoun County High School chamber choir, as well as holiday messages from the mayor and town council.
City of Gaithersburg’s Jingle Jubilee
On December 7 from 6 to 7:30, head over to the City Hall Concert Pavilion for the town’s tree-lighting ceremony. Drink hot chocolate and eat churros and other treats while listening to performances by the Prichard Music Honors Brass, Kentlands Chorus, Gaithersburg High School Band, and Aishlinn Kivlighn. Don’t forget to bring your camera so your kids can take photos with Santa, Rudolph, and even Spider-Man.
Rockville Town Square
On December 5, from 6:30 to 9, the Rockville Town Square hosts its official tree lighting along with a holiday open house. Watch live performances, take a carriage ride, go ice-skating, and stop by the shops and restaurants for special promotions. As we know, the holiday season is all about giving, so bring a toy to benefit the Housing Opportunities Commission.
The third season of Homeland (pictured at top) has audiences debating its increasingly unlikely scenarios and emphasis on teen angst (poor Dana!), but the Emmy-winning series—which was recently picked up for a fourth season and just finished filming in Morocco—has gotten the ultimate tribute: a Sesame Street parody, Homelamb, performed by sheep Muppets.
The indie chain Angelika Film Center announced its second area cinema, next to DC’s Union Market, to open in 2015, following last year’s debut of Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax. Landmark Theatres launches its third DC outpost, in NoMa, in late 2016.
Waiting for Yuppie Food
Navy Yard, the neighborhood south of Capitol Hill, is getting a Whole Foods in 2017. (A branch is opening on H Street, Northeast, in 2016.) Meanwhile, developers Ken Finkelstein and Greg Fazakerley are considering opening a hotel in Navy Yard, next to Nationals Park.
February 11 marks 50 years since the Beatles’ first American concert, performed at Washington Coliseum. To commemorate the occasion, the tribute band Beatlemania Now is reenacting the show in its entirety on that date, accompanied by a 15-minute documentary about the venue. Ticket information is at beatlesyesterdayandtoday.com.
Shakespeare Theatre Company is importing Kneehigh Theatre of Cornwall’s production of Brief Encounter March 29 through April 13.The inventive stage show from Britain—adapted from the David Lean movie, itself based on a Noel Coward play—had successful runs in London and New York.
Philadelphia “Iron Chef” Jose Garces is set to open an Argentinean steakhouse in DC’s Loews Madison hotel next year, while fellow Philadelphian Stephen Starr, who owns DC’s Le Diplomate, is working on a Southeast Asian eatery with New York’s Fatty Crew.
Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward won a Pulitzer for the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage, is writing The Washington Star, about his years at the Star, where he began as a 16-year-old copyboy. Publication is slated for 2016.
Two of Charleston’s hottest restaurants have landed here. Aaron Silverman, late of the city’s farm-to-table eatery McCrady’s, recently debuted the buzzy Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill. Now his McCrady’s colleague Jeremiah Langhorne hopes to migrate to DC’s Shaw.
A new wave of reality star has hit town. After Arlington’s Bracket Room, by The Bachelorette’s Chris Bukowski, E! network’s Giuliana and Bill Rancic are plotting a branch of their Chicago place, RPM Italian.
Photograph of Rancics by JG6/Newscom; Photograph of Angelika Mosaic by Sarah Culver; Photograph of Beatlemania Now by JD3/Newscom; Photograph of Brief Encounter courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company; Photograph of Garces by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images; Photograph of Bernstein by Andy Kropa/Getty Images; Photograph of Rose’s Luxury by Lauren Joseph.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.
At Georgetown’s Evermay estate, the Overtures Holiday Concert Series showcases emerging classical and chamber musicians in six performances. Through December 19.
Catch the Cathedral Choral Society singing at spots around DC—such as the Dupont Circle Metro station’s Q Street entrance—which culminates in The Joy of Christmas at the Washington National Cathedral. Caroling December 4 from 5:30 to 6:15 and 6:45 to 7:30 at the Willard Hotel; December 6 from 6 to 7 at the Q Street entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station; and December 7 from 2 to 3 at the main level of Mazza Galleria. The Joy of Christmas, December 14 and 15.
The National Museum of American History hosts the official Air Force chorus for hourly performances in its Flag Hall. December 7 and 8.
Twists on Classics
Hear what Christmas sounded like in 16th- and 17th-century Latin and South America at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Christmas in New Spain: Early Music of Mexico and Peru. December 13 through 22.
Celebrate the winter solstice with the Christmas Revels’ Echoes of Thrace, a folk performance of music and dance from Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. December 7 through 15.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute band Ornament—“southern New England’s premier rock orchestra”—play the ensemble’s greatest hits, a potpourri of holiday songs sung to rock, blues, and gospel music, at the Hamilton. December 15.
Don’t have plans for Christmas Day? Celebrate with other jazz fans at the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam at the Kennedy Center. December 25.
From Baby Jesus to Buddy the Elf
Black Nativity, Langston Hughes’s Christmas gospel play, comes to the Ellington Theatre. December 4 through 15.
Buddy the Elf finds himself far from the North Pole yet again—this time, at the Kennedy Center—in the musical take on the movie Elf. December 17 through January 5.
Scrooge: Posthumously Way More Popular
Edward Gero stars as Scrooge in the Ford’s Theatre rendition of A Christmas Carol. November 21 through January 1.
The Little Theatre of Alexandria stages the Dickens classic “complete with special effects.” December 5 through 22.
Instead of a moneylender, a rich pub owner fills the Scrooge-like role in the Keegan Theatre’s An Irish Carol. December 13 through 31.
Olney Theatre’s take on the classic favors simplicity, sticking to the original Christmas Carol. November 29 through December 29.
Watch your most embarrassing holiday moments play out at Washington Improv Theater’s Seasonal Disorder, a medley of improv performances that use real-life stories as inspiration. December 5 through 31.
Embrace your inner Mariah Carey at Wolf Trap’s family-friendly Holiday Sing-Along, featuring Christmas carols and Hanukkah hymns. December 7.
All Singing, All Dancing
Step into the Christmas spirit with the Step Afrika! Magical Musical Holiday Step Show at H Street’s Atlas Performing Arts Center. December 11 through 22.
Composer Matt Conner sings and plays the piano at Arlington’s Signature Theatre in A Matt Conner Christmas, sharing his favorite holiday memories through music ranging from classical to bluegrass. December 11 through 15.
Holiday Follies blends songs of the Spice Girls, Frank Zappa, and others with classic carols at Signature Theatre. December 17 through 23.
Let your holiday spirit shine with Sparkle, Jingle, Joy, a holiday revue from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. December 20.
Nutcracker With a Twist
For a familial take on The Nutcracker, check out Olney Ballet Theatre’s production, which features three members of Brookeville’s Welch family onstage and one behind the scenes. December 13 through 24.
In a distinctly Washington iteration of the classic tale, Septime Webre’s Washington Ballet production features George Washington as the Nutcracker. December 5 through December 29.
See the tale with a puppet twist at the Puppet Company Playhouse in Glen Echo. Through December 29.
Silver Bells, Silver Screen
AFI Silver screens classic Christmas films, including Miracle on 34th Street, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and It’s A Wonderful Life. December 6 through 24.
You don’t need Netflix to binge-watch all your favorite holiday films; that’s what the Christmas Movie Festival is for. December 15.
You’ve Gotta Handel It to Them
The Washington National Cathedral’s choir and baroque orchestra performs Handel’s Messiah. December 6 through 8.
The National Symphony Orchestra plays the piece at the Kennedy Center December 19 through 22.
Get some history with your Handel at Strathmore, which offers lectures before each of its Messiah performances by the National Philharmonic.
Matisyahu keeps the Hanukkah festivities going past the eighth night with his Festival of Light show at the 9:30 Club. December 9.
After eight crazy nights, cap off the Hanukkah season withthe DC-based Klezmer band Lox & Vodka at the US Botanic Gardens’ Conservatory Garden Court. December 5.
Get crafty this Kwanzaa with the Alexandria Black History Museum’s family fun workshop, featuring games, songs, dances and crafts. December 7.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa take center stage in the Coyaba Dance Theater’s musical celebration at George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre. December 14.
What to expect from a vaudevilluvian farce such as Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 2013? (Yes, I made that word up.) The women are strippers, the men are incompetent, and even the title is a clunky mouthful. You probably wouldn’t want to bring the whole family along, lest the kids be confused by the smutty asides and the grandparents dismayed—or, worse, overly excited—by the shaking of nipple tassels after intermission.
Still, the holidays are for old-fashioned fun, whether the “fun” be sugar plum fairies or miserly grumps or women dressed as flamingoes and warrior princesses being sold into slavery. Alan Paul’s sparkling, positively cinematic production currently playing at Shakespeare Theatre is a lavish spectacle, and full of enough retro flair you half expect a black-and-white Fred Astaire to come tap dancing out of the wings. Ignore the hoary old plot, so dated even Pliny the Elder might turn up his distinctly Roman nose, and focus on the songs, which are, like Lora Lee Gayer’s Philia, just lovely.
One of Sondheim’s earliest musicals, the show features a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, the latter of whom went on to create M*A*S*H a decade later. Bruce Dow, last seen at Shakespeare playing Bottom in 2012’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, returns as Pseudolus, the conniving and corpulent slave who barters with his master, Hero (Nick Verina), for his freedom. Along the way he’s helped and hindered by Hysterium (the always brilliant Tom Story) and distracted by a fleet of concubines at the brothel next door, run by Danny Rutigliano’s hapless Marcus Lycus.
The design of the show is so slick it almost clashes with the comedy, although Dow delivers with manic energy, tossing fake babies at audience members and breaking character gleefully to acknowledge when a piece of choreography doesn’t quite go according to plan. When Marcus Lycius parades the concubines in front of Pseudolus, his eyes bulge out so violently that he’s reminiscent of a toga-clad Roger Rabbit. Speaking of which, the parade of Playboy-ready Gymnasia (Jennifer Frankel), the Geminae twins (Ashley Blair Fitzgerald and Sarah Meahl), Vibrata (Lisa Karlin), Panacea (Chelsey Arce), and Tintinabula (Ashley Marinelli) makes the most of David C. Woolard’s vibrantly smutty costumes and Josh Rhodes’s gymnastic choreography.
But it’s Gayer who steals both the show and Hero’s heart, thanks to her insanely dimwitted but sweetly naive turn as Philia. She has the Marilyn Monroe-like ability to make dumb seem both adorable and deliberate while uttering lyrics such as, “Oh, isn’t it a shame? I can neither sew, nor cook, nor read or write my name.” Next to the frantic and ill-conceived scheming going on around her, Philia’s guileless idiocy feels rather refreshing.
Still, if the caricaturish elements are necessarily OTT (Woolard decks out the Proteans in fake rubber bellies and gives Edward Watts’s Miles Gloriosus thighs the size of Hercules), the music is all sorts of refined, featuring a live band led by Adam Wachter. James Noone’s set is also a treat, featuring sharply geometric houses in black and white reaching up from a modern black marble floor (all the better to contrast with the garish hues of Pseudolus’s toga). In the season of festive frivolity, you could do worse than snigger at Shevelove and Gelbart’s gags, even if they’re older than Rome itself.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is at Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall through January 5. Running time is about two and a half hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($20 to $110) are available via Shakespeare Theatre’s website.
Thursday, December 5
DRINK: It’s Repeal Day, that wonderful day when America prohibited prohibition once and for all. To celebrate, Jack Rose is hosting its third annual ’30s-style party, featuring burlesque dancers and specials on prohibition-era cocktails, whiskeys, Prohibition Punch, cigars, and Champagne. Wear your best flapper dress or stylish suit and pretend you’re drinking illegally, for the night at least. 7 PM.
SHOW: You’ve seen The Princess Bride about a thousand times while flipping through the channels on a lazy Sunday, but you probably haven’t seen it performed, onstage, by one crazy guy. Part slapstick (think Star Wars Light Saber Kid), part love story, Joe Brack’s show, “My Princess Bride,” debuted at Fringe Festival, and has found new life afterward. Once you see it, watching 20 commercial-interrupted minutes of it on TV will never be the same. Tickets ($20) are available online. 8 PM at the Shop at Fort Fringe.
Friday, December 6
DANCE: Take things back to the ’70s with Moneytown at Little Miss Whiskey’s. DJ Nitekrawler spins funk, soul, and Latin throwbacks from his massive collection of 45s. Treat the slushies with caution and you’ll have a good night. Free. 10 PM.
PLAY: The good thing about Connect Four as a kid was if you were losing, you could just knock over the whole board and then claim you tied. That’s not the case at Penn Social’s Connect Four More tournament, which benefits Sports for Sharing, a charity that helps expose kids to games and sports. If you think you’re better than anyone else at lining up four red or black disks in a row before your opponent, give it a try. During the tournament, craft beers are $4, and before 7 a few draft beers are $3. Entrants get free appetizers, and the winner gets all sorts of things, including a Connect Four set. Tickets ($15) are available online. 6 PM.
CRAFT: They say it’s the thought that counts, and making a gift inherently requires way more thought than buying someone a Playstation 4. The S. Dillon Ripley Center hosts a DIY Holiday, where you’ll learn how to make holiday cards with stamping, calligraphy, and collage; fold origami Christmas tree ornaments; and decorate Christmas cookies like a pro. Soon maybe you won’t need stores at all and can cast off the trappings of modern life. Tickets ($45) are available online. 6:45 PM.
Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture
Through January 5, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art presents “Handmade Holiday Cards,” an exhibition featuring 60 personal greetings cards made by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Alexander Calder, Milton Avery, and more.
Anacostia Community Museum
“Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence” and “Home Sewn: Quilts from the Lower Mississippi Valley” go on display December 4, revealing tapestries made by women in rural South Africa and quilts from the museum’s permanent collection.
Corcoran Gallery of Art
“Question Bridge: Black Males,” opening December 7, explores notions of contemporary blackness and male identity.
Freer Gallery of Art
“The Nile and Ancient Egypt,” opening December 7, displays artifacts from the Freer’s collection to trace the River Nile’s history and significance.
National Portrait Gallery
“Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: A Civil War Portfolio” opens December 13 and features large-scale reproductions of photos taken of the District of Columbia a century and a half ago.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
“In Focus: Ara Guler’s Anatolia” presents photographs by Guler, known as “the eye of Istanbul” for his images of the Turkish city taken in the ’50s and ’60s. Opens December 14.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
“Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts” opens December 20 and comes from the Brooklyn Museum. The show examines the art of quilting and its importance to the women’s movement.
It isn’t exactly the most romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day, but in 2014, if you wish, you’ll be able to spend the Hallmark Holiday catching up with a sociopathic congressman, his icily Machiavellian wife, a vicious and ruthless reporter, and some guy who sells ribs on South Capitol. Netflix announced today that season two of House of Cards will be released on February 14, ending the long wait for fans more accustomed to instant TV gratification (but at least Jodie Foster directed an episode, so there’s that).
Kevin Spacey will of course be back as Frank Underwood, as will Robin Wright as Claire Underwood and Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes. The last we saw of Zoe (spoilers ahead) she seemed to have cottoned on to Frank’s dastardly dealings, possibly leaving him and Claire on a downward trajectory. Is their fall inevitable? Is Zoe too compromised herself to hold Frank accountable? Will Kevin Spacey ever get his revenge for having been beaten to an Emmy by Jeff Daniels? We’ll find out in February. Until then, you can watch what is essentially a 30-second clip of Claire Underwood smoking a cigarette below. It’ll be a waste of 30 seconds, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Perhaps the worst fate one could wish on the characters in The Lyons is for the four of them to end up in the same room together again.
It’s not an occasion that happens frequently. The quartet has been brought together in Nicky Silver’s acerbic, funny play because Ben, the family patriarch (John Lescault), is dying of cancer. That might put most families on their best behavior. But even as the Lyonses try to tolerate one another (and truth be told, the suddenly vulgar Ben isn’t making much of an effort), they wind up trading barbs, cutting each other to the core, and revealing each other’s deepest secrets, all within the span of a hospital’s visiting hours. As an example, recovering alcoholic Lisa (Kimberly Gilbert) hasn’t been in the room for more than a minute or two before her mother, Rita (Naomi Jacobson), has revealed she thinks Lisa’s son is retarded. “Just moderately. A little,” Rita sniffs defensively.
Silver’s intriguing, sometimes jolting play works not because the Lyonses are likable, relatable, or even particularly realistic (the dialogue, even in the hands of Round House Theatre’s able cast, can still sound practiced). It works because they’re interesting. Particularly intriguing is the caustic but complicated Rita, a woman who’s never really loved her husband but can’t bear the thought of life without him. She has a tendency to destroy everyone in her wake, but Jacobson does an admirable job demonstrating Rita’s surprise that anyone would see her thoughts or actions as less than obvious or justified, no matter how narcissistic or ridiculous they are. Ben dares express shock that she once bought a gun years ago, with designs on using it on him. “It was a whim!” she counters with hilarious exasperation. The character’s complexity, combined with Jacobson’s meaty portrayal, make it impossible not to root for Rita when it looks like she’s been given a second stab at happiness as the play wraps up.
The first act of The Lyons proceeds rather conventionally, but the second act reveals more surprises. It’s structurally different—Gilbert opens the play by including the audience in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Scenes change swiftly, courtesy of Misha Kachman’s rotating set, and transform to the tune of blastingly loud and unexpected music choices, including a creepy cover of “Over the Rainbow.” The drama is also heightened—dire circumstances give the audience more of a window into Curtis (Marcus Kyd), Ben and Rita’s son, who is perhaps the most damaged of the Lyons. His scenes with a no-nonsense nurse (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, making the most of a small role) have a tenderness to them. It’s a testament to Silver’s writing and John Vreeke’s direction that the audience longs for a little warmth for Curtis—or for anyone, really, in this dysfunctional family.
The Lyons is at Round House Theatre Bethesda through December 22. Running time is about two hours, including one intermission. Tickets ($30 to $45) are available via Round House’s website.