Waiting around for twenty years for just the right New York revival of his 1991 Pulitzer Prize and multi Tony Award winning play LOST IN YONKERS, Neil Simon can now bask in the glow of this wondrous production mounted by The Actors Company Theatre. This long overdue revival is not to be missed by anyone, including Mr. Simon who will be one happy guy, seeing how touching and amusing his play is – as if he didn’t know.
LOST IN YONKERS has aged extremely well. Under the skillful direction of Jenn Thompson, who has set ablaze all the humanity and intense feelings inherent in the text with her casting of a perfect set of actors, the play at first has you laughing and then unexpectedly grabs you by your emotional guts and never lets go.
TACT has intimately brought us into the 1942 sweltering hot living room of ice cold Grandma Kurnitz – with her heavy German accent and cane (Cynthia Harris in one of her finest portrayals) where the family squabbles, relationships and history unfold.
You will laugh until you are brought to tears. No mean feat by Mr. Simon, the King of one-lines and jokes that made the prolific writer the toast of Broadway during the 1960’s.
With LOST IN YONKERS, Mr. Simon graduated to another level of writing. And it is beautifully showcased at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row through April 14th.
Nothing could be worse for two young kids (Jay – Matthew Gumley and his younger brother Arty – Russell Posner) than having to spend Sunday afternoon (let alone a year!) with their demanding and seemingly heartless grandmother who has spawned a very funny albeit dysfunctional family.
Their dad Eddie (Dominic Comperatore) is all nerves as he prepares to ask his hard as steel mother to take in his kids until he can get back on his feet after the death of his wife. He needs to go South selling scrap metal. The ever present war will afford him the opportunity to make enough money to pay off his loan shark loan.
On the lam Uncle Louie (Alec Beard) is a dapper guy who carries a gun and a satchel full of money. Their sister Gert (Stephanie Cozart) has one of the funniest and most bizarre speaking impediments whenever she visits. And then there is Bella (Finnerty Steeves).
Beautiful, hyper, childlike and confused thirty four year old Bella who takes care of their mother while helping out in the downstairs store where Grandma accounts for every pretzel and scoop of ice cream.
I fell in love twice during the show. With Bella, the character and with the actress portraying her, Finnerty Steeves. It’s a very special, heart wrenching performance that tugs at your heartstrings as you watch her trying to explain about the usher she has met while going to the movies – wanting to escape the tyrannical hold that her mother has on her. You just want to hug her.
Making his auspicious theatrical debut Russell Posner almost steals the show with his naturalness, his honesty and his spot on comic timing.
The entire design team must be congratulated: Costumes by David Toser, Scenic Design by John McDermott, Lighting by Martin E. Vreeland and Sound by Toby Jaguar Algya, making LOST IN YONKERS a show that must be seen.
www.tactnyc.org. Photo: Stephen Kunken
NOTE: I especially liked the transitions between the scenes. At the post show talk back we learned that director Jenn Thompson had written to Mr. Simon and his lawyer to see if she could change them from what Mr. Simon had originally written. Wow! Can you imagine? What’s even more Wow! Can you imagine? is that Mr. Simon agreed.
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