The current show at the MMAS Black box theatre is the 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning, Neil Simon show, "Lost in Yonkers''. Set in 1942, the show examines the relationships in the emotionally crippled Kurnitz family. Simon shows why the five adults in this show have become the way they are and how it affects the two teenage boys left in their midst. Director Mike Kiernan mixes the comic and dramatic moments perfectly leaving the audience laughing and crying at the appropriate times. He and his seven performers make this a must see show of the autumn season.
The cast is lead by Maggie Nichols who plays Bella, an affectionate 35 year old who is mildly retarded. She wants the same things normal women want but her mother smothers her with a stern unbending hand. Maggie brings great warmth, humor and pathos to the role of Bella. She makes the audience cry while she pleads with her family about marrying a movie usher and makes them cheer her on when she finally stands up to her overbearing mother to let her live her life to the fullest. Maggie's portrayal of Bella is superb and she shines in this role. Beth Goldman makes the German monster grandma into a powerful character. Her bitchy, mean-spirited behavior hides her true hurt and anger at the death of her young son and daughter many years ago. Beth's strong acting makes you dislike this horrible woman until you find out the true cause of her behavior and she shows her vulnerability. Both Maggie and Beth's interactions with each other and the rest of the cast are wonderful and they set the standards for the others to follow. The youngest members of the cast are marvelous in their roles. Petr Favazza, a 15 year old as Jay and Tim Traversy, a 13 year old as Arty as the boys left to live with their terrible, unemotional grandmother after the death of their mother, shine in their time on stage.(Tim's biggest laugh comes with the line a horse fell on Grandma's foot and she hasn't taken an aspirin since.) Both these young actors handle their huge amount of dialogue with the ease of veteran performers. Petr and Tim make the humor, pathos and fright of their plight in Yonkers a joy to watch. They act very naturally in their roles and make the audience believe they could be brothers in real life, too. Two multitalented boys who have a bright future in the theatre. Keep your eye on them.
The other dysfunctional members of the family are the mobster, Uncle Louie, the speech impaired, Aunt Gert and the boy's emotional father, Eddie.Fred Armstrong makes Louie into a scene stealer with his swagger and tough talk to the boys. He brings the comic aspect out in this crazy family setting and shows he still has a soft spot when he helps Bella out with her boyfriend by giving her the money she needs. Michelle Monti as Gert is hilarious. Her character's speech defect of breathing in and out on her lines leads the audience into gales of laughter. Michelle shows her caring to Bella with a hug at the close of this emotion packed scene. Paul Dixon plays Eddie, the father with great warmth and shows off his humorous side during the letter scenes on the train. He makes you feel for him during the early moments with his despair at his wife's death, his leaving of the boys with his awful mother and the financial troubles that led him into this situation. Director Kiernan creates the right atmosphere for an apartment in the 1940's from the decor to the costumes to the musical background. He is aided by Alan Conway, his hard working stage manager who keeps things running smoothly while running light and sound. The set by Michael Duarte and Glenn Fournier includes a living room set with a dining area and the necessary 5 doors with one leading downstairs to the ice-cream shop is well done. The artistic detailing on the set of the paneling and baseboard is by Glenn and the authentic costumes are by Mary Jane McCool. So for an excellent Neil Simon show be sure to catch "Lost in Yonkers". (This was one of my favorite shows I directed back in 2002.) Ken and Glenn also did a fabulous job renovating the theater's expansion to include a larger audience area for the show, a huge lobby, studio area, office space and an art gallery. Bravo on the renovations!