note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Roger Bentley
Once again, the Wellesley Players have proven themselves as a local theatre with the right stuff. Their production of Neil Simon's LOST IN YONKERS under the superb direction of Timothy J Fitzgerald premiered to a very receptive audience who were treated to some top notch performances by local actors. This reviewer would like to go on record to say that many of the local community theatre companies don't get the proper recognition that is deserved and Wellesley's productions of recent years reflect their true love and respect of theatre.
The set design and dressing were truly reflective of the time period and enhanced the feeling of the 1940's required by this show. The audience was treated to melodies of the 40's during the scene changes which helped with the flow and pacing of the show. Costumes seemed to be in line with the time period and were used effectively in each scene. My compliments to the backstage crew who obviously had quite the task of helping the two young boys with some very fast costume changes which could have been detrimental to the show's movement.
As Fitzgerald noted in his director's note, this is not your usual Neil Simon piece. There is much drama happening here interspersed with Simon's flair for comedy and handled well by the talented cast. In the pivotal role of Bella, Robby Levy delivered an inspired performance. She truly captured the childlike innocence of the character along with the inner struggle of her female sexuality and desire to have children. This was not an easy role for an actor to play but Levy came through with flying colors with an obvious understanding of the characters inner conflicts of life and living in a dysfunctional home where caring and understanding was not the norm.
In a performance that could have been one-dimensional, Maureen Adduci portrayed Grandma Kurnitz, a survivor of Nazi Germany with a stern attitude and true conviction. Her coming to grips with the loss suffered in her life in the second act was truly remarkable and heartfelt by all who were witness to her performance. You could have really hated the character but the second act showed us a the key to her bitterness in life and her character's redemption. A tough role to play but Adduci showed that she was more than up to the challenge.
Then there was Louie, Bella's gangster brother, played with flair by Mark DeAngelis. This again was a role that could have been played very stereotypical as the "James Cagney" type but as with the other characters in the show, Louie had some issues in his life prompting him to make survival choices from a very early age. DeAngelis handled the role with the required charisma yet when required journeyed to some very tough emotional areas in the character without hesitation and handled them with ease. It would be interesting to see him do some work in shows by Arthur Miller or David Mamet to display his obvious range in acting abilities.
Kids on stage is not one of my favorite things, along with animals, yet the two boys in this show showed they could more than hold their own against their experience fellow actors. Matt Taylor and Ryan Cameron portrayed Jay and Artie Kurnitz, respectively. These were two young boys forced by circumstances to live with their stoic grandmother until their father could get his family back on their feet again financially. It was not an easy road for these boys living in this situation but they made the best of it under the circumstances, thanks in part to Aunt Bella and Uncle Louie.
Taylor made it seem easy with his comfort level on stage as if anyone could do this. His performance was great and I see some wonderful things in the future for this young man. Someone to keep an eye onů Cameron as Artie showed some great comic timing and one of his best scenes was with his Grandma and the mustard soup. Again, these two kids did a great job with a tough script.
Rounding out the cast were Lee Carter Browne as the breathy Aunt Gert, who I wish we were able to see more of during the show and Jim Stewart as Eddie, father of Jay and Arty. Stewart's character showed up at the beginning and the end of the show and his letters from the road with handled as voice overs during the show. As Eddie, Stewart gave a fine perfomance with the appropriate accent for the character. Browne's Aunt Gert was a stitch and provided some desperately need laughter in the second act. Not a big role but Browne was great in the part.
Director Fitzgerald should be proud of this production which went without a hitch. The direction showed Fitzgerald had a a great understanding and sensitivity to the material as well as how to handle comedy. The pacing, the acting, the whole picture was just there and enjoyed by all who attended. My only regret is that the show ran for only one weekend. Hopefully, the Players will be able to extend future shows to two weekends to get a greater audience from word of mouth and reviews from the first weekend. Looking forward to their next production, which is SEUSSICAL.