BWW Review: GROUP rep Knocks LOST IN YONKERS Out of the Park
Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning dramedy Lost in Yonkers followed his autobiographical trio Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. Critics started to take him seriously as a playwright with these plays for he was writing about his own family's life experiences. Lost in Yonkers is set in 1942 in Yonkers, New York where Grandma Kurnitz (Loraine Shields) and her daughter Bella (Roslyn Cohn) run the family confectionery store and live in a modest apartment upstairs. Now in a stunning production at the GROUP rep, Larry Eisenberg directs a perfectly cast ensemble who make the play shine brightly through October 22.
Humor is Simon's best suit. This is drama, but... there is plenty of comedy emanating from the characters themselves. As in any dysfunctional family, the members are imperfect...we see the world from their perspective... distorted, nightmarish or delusional at times, but funny. Grandma is a transplant from pre-war Germany, unhappy yet desciplined and strong-willed. Bella is sweet, kind and loving but with the mentality of a child. She lives in a world of fantasy, pure escapism from the cruel abusive behavior of her mother. Into this ultra private world come son Eddie (Patrick Burke) and his two sons Jacob or Jay (Bennett Saltzman), a precocious, stubborn 15 year-old and his younger brother Arthur or Arty (Brent Anthony), 13. Eddie is in debt and must give up his apartment to go on the road to find work, and so he turns to his mother to take in the boys while he is away. They do not relish the opportunity to get to know her, nor for that matter does Grandma, who at first refuses to give in to her weakling son. Once she is suaded to change gears, the boys move in for a ten-month period, and such is the crux of the play. We see the family mostly through Jacob's eyes. He observes every conflict and learns quickly to take advantage for his own gain. Jacob is Simon's mouthpiece, and every character, every experience becomes theatrically unforgettable.
Under Eisenberg's meticulous eye and fine pacing, the ensemble create sparks throughout. Saltzman and Anthony make Jacob and Arty real down.to.earth, irritating teenagers, who consistently try but most often fail to meet expectations. Shields as Grandma is dynamically stern and has some wonderful sincere moments of transformation in Act Two...never going over the top. Cohn as Bella is a marvel. Her monlogues of desperation speak volumes about the lack of love in one's life. She makes Bella caring, but ditzy, off.the.wall, almost delusional. Nevertheless, she never strays far from the truth of her pathetic isolation. Burke has one of his finest roles as Eddie and plays him straight forward and full-out with great touches of humor especially relating via letters his stories of the South. Van Boudreux is delightful as Uncle Louie, a minor racketeer who will stop at nothing to steal even from his own mother, providing a worrisome role model for the two boys. Like his mother and Jacob, Louie sees the positive side of standing up for yourself and calls it 'moxy' a word that Simon really likes, using it more than once in the script. Julie Davis completes the terrific cast as deliciously nervous Aunt Gert.
Chris Winfield has designed a rather plain apartment set that nicely suits the period and the family's simple tastes. Angela M. Eads's costumes are excellent with some extremely colorul dresses for Bella that make her lunacy stand out even more.
The GROUP rep may be proud of this production of Lost in Yonkers. Superb direction and an outstanding cast fill the bill. Remember that this is the 40s when parents physically hit and psychologically abused their children as punishment. Today's therapists would have a field day striking down these unwarranted measures, but that's the way it was. Don't miss it through October 22!