note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Jim Wagner
Audiences usually are so taken by the wit of Neil Simon's plays that we overlook both the demons his characters combat with humor and Mr. Simon's formidable skill as a playwright. All three--laughter, tragedy, and the writer's craft--are evident in his few autobiographical plays that include LOST IN YONKERS, admirably presented by The Wellesley Players, Nov. 12-14. Timothy J. Fitzgerald directed this balanced production.
The tragic youth of Grandma Kurnitz (Maureen Adduci) was more than she could overcome. Thus she tyrannically distorted the lives of her four children, Eddie (Jim Stewart), Bella (Robby Morse Levy), Louie (Mark DeAngelis) and Gert (Lee Carter Browne). By 1942 when the play begins her children are limping through their thirties, and Grandma is poised to extend her influence to Eddie's motherless boys, Jay (Matt Taylor) and Arty (Ryan Cameron).
Without leaving the bleak apartment in Yonkers, Simon skillfully covers 10 months when the boys must live with their grandmother and Aunt Ella while Eddie buys and sells scrap iron throughout wartime America. Jay and Arty come to know their hardened grandmother and all of her bullied children. Eddie continues to love his sons through letters, read in effective voice-over by Stewart. Ella, ever protective, proves to be far less simple-minded that everyone assumes. Uncle Louie, a lone-wolf criminal, offers both diversion and grim lessons. Aunt Gert can scarcely breathe when she visits her mother's house yet apparently has a normal life elsewhere. Eventually even Grandma learns and yields, ever so little,
All seven roles are demanding and all are well performed by this able cast. Veteran actors Levy and DeAngelis are particularly effective as siblings who responded so differently to their mother's bitterness. Adduci is appropriately demanding and joyless. Browne presents Gert's speech problem so vividly that we hope she has not damaged her voice.
The play is seen through Eddie's sons, which puts quite a load on young actors. Matt Taylor and Ryan Cameron, both high school freshmen, rise to the task of portraying teenagers of six decades ago who had to grow up fast. Taylor is excellent as the serious older brother while Cameron, an adolescent Neil Simon, provides many of the laughs. The boys are talented and responsive to good directing.
Tim Fitzgerald is to be commended for his fine direction throughout. The performances blend despite the actors' wide variety in stage experience. An accomplished actor himself, Fitzgerald has led the cast on a clear path through this "atypical" Neil Simon play. The audience realizes the rewards. Special thanks are due the production staff for setting the ambiance for this production. Jackie Weinstein designed collages in the lobby to remind audiences of world events and American culture in 1942. Someone, perhaps sound engineer Bob Pascucci, selected popular recordss from the Forties to play while the audience settled into the comforting space of the Sorenson Center at Babson College.