ARTI closes season with dark comedy, ‘The Lyons’

Garret Caudle, playing Curtis Lyons, and Lexie French, as his mother, Rita Lyons, rehearse a scene from “The Lyons” on Monday evening at The Phoenix theater on Broadway in Idaho Falls. In the background are Emily Kvamme, playing Lisa Lyons, and Lynn Crowley, playing the family patriarch, Ben Lyons, who is dying of cancer. The Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Idaho production opens June 6. Monte LaOrange /

Dealing with a death in the family is never easy.

For the fictional Lyons family, the situation becomes even more difficult because of their constant bickering and personal problems.

Written by Nicky Silver, “The Lyons” — a rather dark comedy — made its off-Broadway debut in October 2011. The Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Idaho will open its version of the play June 6 at The Phoenix theater, 257 W. Broadway in Idaho Falls.

Eastern Idaho audiences will relate to the play’s take on coming to terms with death, ARTI director Sean Cunningham said.

“It deals with some serious issues through humor,” Cunningham said. “Using humor in difficult situations is something that a lot of people can relate to. I always seem to enjoy a play or movie more when I can relate to what’s going on, and I think a lot of our audience is like that, too.”

Much of the play is set in the hospital room of Ben Lyons, the family patriarch who is dying of cancer. The first act focuses on Lyons — portrayed by actor Lynn Crowley — and his dysfunctional relationship with his wife, Rita, played by Lexie French.

Crowley, French and the other four actors featured in the play all are from the Idaho Falls area.

The couple’s grown children are portrayed by Garret Caudle, who plays, Curtis, and Emily Kvamme as Lisa.

Kevin Odette portrays Brian, a real estate agent who helps Curtis look for an apartment.

Rounding out the cast is Sarah Barksdale, who plays a nurse at the hospital.

As the play progresses, Curtis and Lisa find their way to their dad’s bedside. But their presence only adds to the dysfunction.

Curtis, who is gay, has had little to do with his homophobic father in recent years.

Things aren’t much better for Lisa, an alcoholic who just left an abusive marriage.

Ben Lyons lets the insults fly, most of which are directed at his wife, who is busy planning how she will redecorate the house after he dies.

French, a 14-year member of ARTI, said the character’s depth is what drew her to Rita.

“This is a really good role,” French said. “Rita is a very complex person. On the surface, she is a wife and mother, but beneath that she has some issues that she is dealing with. She has a lot of feelings of failure in her family that she is struggling with.”

Cunningham, a nine-year ARTI veteran, will break new ground on opening night.

“This is my first time directing a play on my own and I love it,” he said. “It has been a great opportunity to take something and put your own spin on it. I’ve loved being able to help the actors to really create a great show.”

The play offers a change of pace from ARTI’s last production, “The Senator Wore Pantyhose.”

“This has a lot of dark humor,” Cunningham said. “The Senator Wore Pantyhose was really zany and off-the-wall. This play isn’t off-the-wall humor, but it’s still funny.”

For Cunningham, it’s the growth of the play’s characters that makes the production worth seeing.

“Each member of the family has to face their own demons,” he said. “At the end of the play, most of them are able to achieve some sort of redemption.”

Nathan Davis can be reached at 542-6762.