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BWW Review: LOST IN YONKERS at The Georgetown Palace Theatre

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In good hands, Neil Simon can build a narrative as strong as steel

BWW Review: LOST IN YONKERS at The Georgetown Palace Theatre

"LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE LOST IN GEORGETOWN", these words from a helpful house manager follow me around the corner from the main auditorium entrance to the Springer stage and into the Playhouse stage at The Georgetown Palace Theatre to see that august institution's latest production of Lost in Yonkers by the American stage's master of the one-liner, Neil Simon. She was correct of course, I was lost. Lost physically having never seen a performance in the black box space prior to this one, but also lost in an anxious malaise where trepidation about impending professional obligations was preventing me from entering the pre-show Zen headspace before witnessing magic unfold between two moments of darkness. I was lost, but I was found again by a stellar company of performers, production technicians and their creative team. They took me by the hand, lifted away my troubles and invited me to share in the tribulations, triumphs, and growth of a very dysfunctional family.

Director Yaakov Abrams delivers us a cozy, intimate memory play from Simon whose nostalgia for "the sixth borough" in the 1940s has become so distant and disconnected from today's sensibilities it almost borders on the mythological. A "poor" family owning a store with attached apartment off Hudson park? No way. Raising the modern equivalent of $110,000 cash by selling at least 1 ton of scrap iron every single day for 10 months? Fantasy. Was there ever a time in America this could happen? Probably not. Yet, it did happen and people lived and worked together in this world and worked through conflicts not dissimilar to those we work through with our own families and friends today, though the vernacular and understanding has changed. Abrams brings us right in to the Kurnitz living room with the thrust staging coming right up to the audience, a complicated presentation style even with 20 feet of breathing room. Abrams adroitly places these characters with pinpoint accuracy so that no moment feels weighted too heavily to one side while also maintain the natural feeling of relatives conversing in a familiar, lived-in space guided by superlative scenic design from Justin Dam and exacting minimalist lighting design from Rebecca Kehl, further characterized with authenticity by Barb Jernigan's immaculate Scenic Artistry and Sound design from Abrams and Dam. We're able to recognize and empathize with the discomfort of Jay (Sullivan Brown) and Arty (Tyler Boulton) because we also remember waiting in the familiar, threatening spaces of relatives we don't visit often wearing oversized, hand me down clothes (Beautiful costumes from Jessica Quinn, utilizing the simplicity of fashion for the time mixed with color pops in accessories to show the personality of each character) while a loving, but tense parent (Here the model of warmth and naiveté in Payton Trahan playing Eddie) awkwardly talks out important family business with an elder. Jay and Arty are in Yonkers to stay with Grandma Kurnitz and nobody is happy about it.

Ah, then there is ray of sunshine! Bella! Aunt Bella, who is a delight and a joy! A salve to the boys, who are reticent to indulge Bella in her carefree suggestions of ice cream from the store below, Bella is a tragic figure presented comically the way only Simon can and here presented mesmerizingly lovable, poignantly resolute in the way (I'm convinced) only Christine Bush can. Bella and her many soul rending, heart filling monologues about living with her unspecified developmental disorder, forever straddling a gulf between girl and woman and her reaction to the traumas visited upon her and her surviving siblings by their mother are the reason this play has a Pulitzer and Bush shows you exactly why this text is deceptively acrobatic, hiding real honest life affirmation between jokes at her character's forgetfulness or flights of fancy. Bush's performance alone is more than worth the price of admission, but lucky for us we get to also enjoy Amado DeHoyos portrayal of one-time bagman and smooth criminal uncle Louie, whose turn with the character gives us a rascally jokester, as witty as he is observant of more than people realize and just as damaged as his siblings by their mother, though the last one to realize it. Anna Becker makes the most of her few scenes as aunt Gert, pulling raucous laughs with her trauma borne breathing disorder acting up at the worst times, but also showing us the real steel of Kurnitzes is planted firmly with her, the true anchor of the family and only genuine marker of stability outside the penetrating gaze of her mother. Then there is Grandma Kurnitz, played by Stacy Meisetschlaeger who completely disappears into the role, the central pillar of the family and the central pillar of the play. She is often touted to be made of steel throughout, but through the sensitive and understated delivery of Meisetschlaeger, (with pain, love, grief, pride, fear and certitude boiling under her surface like a rich mustard soup) we come to see that her structural beam isn't steel at all, but a weathered and flaking plaster, unable to bear the weight of repeated tragedies alone bringing the full weight of despair down upon her children in a slow, muted collapse.

All is not lost in Yonkers! Simon, and this company led by Yaakov Abrams, do not leave us or the Kurnitzes alone to sift through the scrap of their relationships. The steel that always supported this family was one born out of survival at any cost, at the expense of any kind of positive relationship and that is why it falls. When iron carbide steel isn't strong enough to stand on its own, you need to alloy in new elements when you rebuild. Survival will always collapse without complimentary elements like understanding and acceptance. With that kind of tungsten-strength alloy the new structure can be built with room to grow, one story at a time.

LOST IN YONKERS

By Neil Simon

The Georgetown Palace Theatre - Playhouse Stage

Sept 3 - Oct 3 at 7:30pm, 2:00pm matinees

Running Time: 2 hours with 1 Intermission

Tickets: $34 for Adults, $32 Senior/Student/Military and $24 Student Rush

georgetownpalace.com


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