Let us now praise Natasha Lyonne, gifted comic actress, heir to Kathleen Turner’s flame-broiled vocal cords, and veteran of her own private wars. Lyonne, best known for her withering deadpan performances in American Pie and Slums of Beverly Hills, fell into some kind of grim abyss in the mid-aughts. She seems to have climbed out of it now and onto the stage, and the boards seem to suit her beautifully. After an applauded turn in Love, Loss and What I Wore, she can now be seen as the magnificently dilapidated Grace in Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still.
Dumped practically at the altar by a cheating fiancé, Lyonne’s character spends most of the play beached on the couch, self-medicating with Jack Daniel's, karaoke backing tracks from “The Rose,” and select scenes from Top Gun on infinite loop. She also gets to deliver laser-guided one-liners (Rosenstock’s strength), e.g., “There’s often a fine line between the stupidest thing you could do ... and the sexiest thing you could do.” (The play itself is a flimsy grief dramedy that putters along between zingers, gets squishy fast, and finally liquefies into soupy sentiment and good intentions, despite the directorial ministrations of awkwardness maestro Sam Gold; but Rosenstock, at her smartest and tartest, has an ear for dialogue and the ability to navigate the straits of comic poignancy. I’m eager to see her work mature.)
Could Lyonne inherit the blowsy-sexy bequest of Turner, or of Elizabeth Ashley — the sort of women who like their roles big, bruised, and bemused? Sure she could. Next up, we’ll see her in the New Group’s dark comedy Blood From a Stone, about a troubled working-class family in New Britain, Connecticut. She’ll co-star with Daphne Rubin-Vega and Ethan Hawke, to whom years of cigs have been less kind, laryngeally speaking. That’ll be some rasp-throwdown. My money’s on Lyonne. She’s a scrapper. We’re lucky to have her back.
At the Roundabout's Black Box Theatre, 111 West 46th Street; through November 21.