Nicky Silver hosted a hilarious conversation at the Drama Book Shop about his latest play, The Lyons. Like his plays, the evening was a combination of high wit and depressingly low self-esteem, which Silver turns to comic gold. Anyone who has not read his gut-busting, gut-wrenching work should buckle up. No subject is sacred and his blistering plays include sex, cannibalism, death, profanity and a shocking amount of heart and laughs. His latest work is the comic and critical Broadway hit The Lyons, Silver’s long overdue welcome to Broadway.
For the recent publication of The Lyons, Silver sat down with Sarah Stern, the Co-Artistic Director of the Vineyard Theatre, to discuss everything from Silver’s take on black comedy to his struggle with diverticulitis. (Diverticulitis, for those not in the know, is a painful inflammation of the bowels, so, thanks for sharing, Mr. Silver.)
Silver began with: “Who’s here because I said on Facebook I’d give a dollar to everyone who comes?” Silver had a dollar ready for every raised hand. He told me to take the dollar and buy new clothes. Stern asked, “Why didn’t you think anyone would come?” Silver replied, “Well, I thought you would come, being the moderator.” In self-deprecating fashion, Silver explained that his whole career has been a struggle (he is now the author of over 13 plays), “and it doesn’t get easier.” “I have no position in the theatre. But I do get a lot of emails from students all over the world…It should give me some sense of self, but it hasn’t done that.”
Silver’s rapid-fire conversation continued as he straddled the line between exhibitionist showman and dreadfully honest best friend. Stern could barely get a word in edgewise: “You wanna ask me something?” Silver asked. “I just talk!” The evening felt like a stand-up show as Silver riffed on playwriting, growing older and Theresa Rebeck, while the audience ate it up.
On writing: “It is better to make something, unless you have diverticulitis, than nothing at all.”
On aging: “I’ve gotten kinder to my characters, but they haven’t gotten any happier, so I probably haven’t gotten any happier.”
On playwrights: “Being a playwright is like making Victrolas in this day and age.”
Just like his plays, beneath the black-rimmed glasses, blue bow-tie, flamboyant personality, and vicious humor, there beat a charming, charitable and serious heart. He told Stern that after writing the complicated and idealistic Three Changes in 2008, he just wanted to write something simple, “the simplest play that I could write.” The result was The Lyons, a hilariously touching comedy about a dying father and the gathered family whose fear of being alone is only matched by that of being together. Silver confessed that in his plays laughs were never the challenge. Instead, he enjoys the silence when a play hits home. “I want to be surprised a little bit,” he said. And, “it’s not a bad thing to leave the audience feeling good at the end of the night.”
Silver’s graciousness extended to the question and answer session, where he discussed his influential playwrights (Christopher Durang, Joe Orton, Edward Albee, John Guare), his characters (“all the characters are some part of my personality”), and how he really does love to get emails from the students who put on his plays. The final impression is of a complex man who loves to laugh at everything and has a special talent for laughing at the worst in us (and him). Laughter is a great gift to give. And we were laughing all night.
The Lyons moved to Broadway in 2012 and is now available in paperback from TCG Books. The Drama Book Shop hosts a regular series of conversations between artists and other writers, check their website for more.