Review: LOST IN YONKERS at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg

This production runs through February 11th.

By: Jan. 28, 2024
Review: LOST IN YONKERS at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg

Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Lost in Yonkers was performed on Broadway in 1991 following its premier in North Carolina in 1990. Taking place in 1942, the play focuses on the Kurnitz family in New York. World War II forms an important backdrop for this play, and keeping that in mind will give audiences important insights into the family, especially Grandma, who is a Jewish immigrant from Germany. In typical Neil Simon fashion, the play tackles very real family drama infused with moments of brilliantly written comedy. Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg brings the story of the Kurnitz family to the stage through February 11th.

The set (designed by Mandi L. Hurley and Aaron Booth and constructed and painted by Bobby Zaccan, Mandi L. Hurley, Heather Jannetta, and Dave Lutz), props (by Annie Hart and Sunny Almeyda), sound (designed by Lori Haagen), and costumes (by Jessica Steele) firmly place the play in the 1940s in what is undeniably a grandmother’s home, complete with doilies. The lighting (by David Blenderman) is well-designed, particularly in the nighttime scenes and the scenes where Eddie recites the letters he wrote to his sons. My only critique of the visual elements of the show was the obvious use of bobby pins and clips to pin up Arty’s hair, as they unfortunately caught the light every time the actor moved, which was sometimes distracting.

The cast, directed by Aaron Booth and assistant director Sunny Almeyda, consists of Randi Johnson (Aunt Gert), AJ Rhoads (Uncle Louie), Matthew Stewart (Eddie), Gavin Willcock (Arty), Brayden Abel (Jay), Susan Reutter (Grandma), and Debi Prestine (Aunt Bella). The interactions between the characters are well-crafted, immediately signaling to the audience how the characters feel about one another.

The audience first “meets” Aunt Gert through the comments made by other characters earlier in the show. When Johnson takes the stage in this role, her demeanor, posture, facial expressions, and voice are exactly in line with the image created by the other characters’ descriptions of her. Rhoads gives a solid performance as Uncle Louie, nailing the gangster attitude—languid, strong, in charge, and mysterious. Stewart’s Eddie clearly cares for his children and is nervous, scared, and embarrassed to have to ask his mother for help. The audience can feel his anguish at leaving his family behind for his job.

Willcock and Abel take on the roles of brothers Arty and Jay (or Arthur and Jacob, as Grandma insists on calling them). Willcock is the youngest actor on the stage, and his performance as Arty, a major role for a young person, shows great potential. He particularly shines in the scene where Arty is not feeling well and Grandma forces him to drink some unpleasant soup. Abel has wonderful energy in his role as Jay, and his interactions with Prestine’s Aunt Bell and Rhoads’s Uncle Louie are well-paced.

Reutter and Prestine really steal the show as Grandma and Aunt Bella. Their stage presence is phenomenal and both actors embody their characters beautifully. Reutter and Prestine handle these difficult characters in a way that draws the audience in and keeps the momentum of the show moving. Their scenes together are riveting. Reutter develops Grandma’s complexity and emotional arc throughout the show so that the audience feels like they are watching the character slowly unfold like a flower blooming. Prestine’s Aunt Bella is immediately likeable and sympathetic, and her interactions with the other characters come across as wonderfully genuine.

While the beginning of the show was a little slow in terms of pacing and there were a few line issues the evening this reviewer saw the performance, as the show progressed it was easy to get lost in the relationships and the story and to root for each and every one of the characters, even the ones who did not seem very likeable in the beginning. Lost in Yonkers is a complex and difficult show, and the team at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg has put together a strong production team and a cast that clearly has worked hard to bring this story to life. Get your tickets to see this award-winning play that will make you think about your own family relationships and the way in which one’s past impacts one’s future. Visit ltmpa.com for more information!




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