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Got a Jewish mother? Then you’ll laugh at ‘The Lyons’

Shelley Brown and Phil Thompson as Rita and Ben in the Boston premiere of “The Lyons.”

MARCH 29, 2018 – Arts imitates life for Shelley Brown as she takes on the role of Rita, an overbearing Jewish mother, in Nicky Silver’s dark comedy “The Lyons,” which makes it’s Boston premiere April 19 at the Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.

“I have two daughters. They are beautiful and glorious and I love them to pieces, spoken like a true Jewish mother, or any other mother,” said Brown. “On the face of it, Rita imbues the characteristics of the stereotypical Jewish mother: larger than life, smothering, interfering, critical but with love, to help her children become her version of their best selves.

“The humor comes from the stereotype, but the poignancy comes from Rita’s own journey away from the stereotype,” she added. “The stereotype assumes that that’s all the person is, and exaggerates the negative characteristics, which is where the humor comes from.”

Rita, trapped in a 40-year loveless marriage, must confront her future after her husband is diagnosed with cancer and given only a short time to live. This may not sound funny, but it is in fact hysterical.

When “The Lyons” ran on Broadway (Linda Lavin starred as Rita), The New York Times praised its “fast-quipping, point-scoring humor.”

Impending death allows Rita’s husband Ben to speak uncensored and he takes the opportunity to its fullest. His comments are cutting and comical in the same way Archie Bunker made a previous generation gasp and laugh at the same time.

While sitting at her husband’s deathbed, Rita shares redecorating ideas with him. He forbids her to erase him through redecorating. When the couple’s two adult children arrive, the family dysfunction is evident and laugh-out-loud funny.

“The show isn’t about dying at all, it’s about connecting,” said Brown. “This family isn’t connected in the expected ways, if at all, and over the course of the play they each take a journey to find a connection.

“Rita is so deliciously human, which is why I connect with her, warts and all. What most draws me to her, apart from her wit, is that she embraces life and that she has the guts to break free of the expected path to get what she needs. She is fierce, like any good Lyon [lion].”

The play is the latest project from the Titanic Theater Company, which is known for its irreverence. What other theater company would adopt an iconic disaster as its name?

“‘The Lyons’ has all the elements of the perfect Titanic play: humor and poignancy, with a bite,” said Brown. “It is laugh-out-loud funny, with the kind of wit associated with a Neil Simon play, but the situation and the characters are real and relatable, inviting a range of emotions from the audience.”

For tickets and a detailed schedule of performances from April 19 through May 5, search for “The Lyons” at www.bostontheatrescene.com. The theater is handicapped accessible and there is a discount available for seniors and students.

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