The Journal News

by Ed Buroughs

There must be a real Alex Lyras. It's just hard to figure out who he might be. As the author of three plays, he has created 16 sharply different people who take the stage by themselves and deliver soul-revealing monologues, unaware of just how much they are exposing. As an actor, Lyras has played most of them. Since January, he has been transforming into four in his latest play, "Unequalibrium," at the Gene Frankel Theater in the East Village.

"I hear people monologue and listen," explains Lyras, a 1988 graduate of Scarsdale High School. "While I'm bartending, selling Web sites on the phone, during church services when you're not supposed to talk -- I hear people monologue." He then uses what he hears to create fictional people that you think you know.

In this play, he becomes in turn Jonathan, a melancholy young science teacher about to leave Manhattan; Theo, a married plumbing supplier who strikes it rich in Atlantic City, Isaac, an unemployed Web page designer at a loss in dealing with his mood-swinging girlfriend; and Manny, a lawyer who finds the law an inconvenience. Isaac, Lyras says, was based on an incident in a bar.

"I heard a kid on the phone say loudly in frustration 'Why are you torturing me? Do you want me to come over or not?' And that was it."

At 1 a.m. on a snowy Manhattan street, after Lyras has introduced the four men with effective physical, vocal and emotional distinction, their lives intersect.

The shockingly effective framework that sneaks up on the audience was provided by Lyras' co-author and director Robert McCaskill. Lyras says McCaskill "has a knack for story. When I had all these people together for a read-through, he said 'They have to come together.' I thought it was contrived but he helped weave it together so seamlessly."

Jonathan, the school-teacher, reminisces to his unseen roommate about a long ago hiking trip when he tripped out on mushrooms and conversed with a brook trout. (Jason Livingston's lighting design is mesmerizing as colors shift and snow flakes turn into brick.) Theo is a little more than obnoxious trying to act the kingpin in a casino bar.

Before attention is lost, along comes Manny. Barely moving on the small stage as he watches his unseen buddy shoot pool, Manny spins a compelling story of street life and attitude that is riveting and unexpectedly funny. "I'm an attractive guy," he begins. As he twists his own story, there's a dimming awareness that these four men are not going to stay separated on this stormy night. Malevolence and tension build.

"The thing about a solo show is that it is a very intense involvement with the other person." says McCaskill about his role as director. "It takes tremendous courage to put one's self alone on a stage, presenting material that is a reflection of one's own life and sensibility. The director must recognize the risk and do everything possible to match it."

Another influence in Lyras' writing is ancient Greek. "I am a pure-bred Greek," he says. "I am also a philosophy student and an amateur classicist. I love everything ancient. "If I could go back in time I would almost definitely go back to the premiere of the 'Orestia.' These are plays that influence all drama. I pay my respects and steal whatever I can."

The appreciation of the classics and the links with his hometown friends may reveal the real Alex Lyras. That, and the fact that he seems to thrive on his chosen work.

"A director must always ask himself how hard he can push an actor," says McCaskill. "With Alex the answer is always to up the challenge. Make it harder for him and he will rise to the occasion."

In multiple parts.
(back to the top)