2nd Story Theatre's winter show is Neil Simon's 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Lost in Yonkers". The show is set in 1942 and it examines the relationships in the emotionally crippled, Kurnitz family. The show is a coming of age tale that focuses on brothers Arty and Jay, left in the care of their Grandma Kurnitz and Aunt Bella in Yonkers, New York. Their desperate father, Eddie, works as a traveling salesman to pay off debts incurred following the death of his wife. Grandma is a severe, frightfully intimidating immigrant who terrified her children as they were growing up, damaging each of them in varying degrees. Bella is a sweet but mentally slow and highly excitable woman who longs to marry an usher at the local movie house so she can escape the oppressive household. Bella's brother Louie is a small time, tough-talking hoodlum who is on the run, while sister Gert suffers from a breathing problem whose cause is more psychological than physical. Neil 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 Mark Peckham blends the comic and dramatic moments together terrifically, leaving the audience laughing and crying at the appropriate moments. With his expert direction, Mark's cast wins a thunderous ovation at the close of this show.
Mark always brings out the best in his cast members and this show is no exception. He pays attention to every nuance his performers make, creating a stunning show the audience can savor. Production manager Max Ponticelli keeps things running smoothly both backstage and onstage. The marvelous 1940's set is by Trevor Elliott and the gorgeous period costumes are by Marcia Zammarelli. The cast is lead by two powerhouse actresses. Pretty statuesque blonde Hillary Parker plays Bella, an affectionate 35 year old who is mildly retarded. She wants the same things normal women want, getting married and having a family. However her mother smothers her longings with a stern unbending hand. Hilary brings a lot of warmth, humor and pathos to the role of Bella. She plays this sympathetic character splendidly especially when she makes the audience cry while pleading with her family about marrying a movie usher. Bella's family cheers her on when she finally stands up to her overbearing mother to let her live her life to the fullest. I last reviewed Hillary as the unsympathetic Becky Shaw but she shines as this sympathetic character, displaying her versatility as an actress. Paula Faber brings this German monster of Grandma to life. Her bitchy,mean spirited behavior hides her true hurt at the death of her young son many years ago. Paula's acting prowess makes the audience dislike this horrible woman until you find out the true cause of her behavior. Both Paula and Hilary's interactions are splendid, setting a high standard for the other performers.
The youngest cast members are marvelous in their roles, stealing many scenes with their strong acting abilities. Andrew Iacovelli as Jay and Matthew Pirraglia as Arty play the boys left to live with their terrible, unemotional grandmother after their mother's death. They shine in their time on stage. Andrew and Matthew handle their enormous amount of dialogue with the ease of veteran performers. They make the humor, pathos and fright of their plight in Yonkers, a joy to watch. Andrew has tears in his eyes as his father gets ready to leave them. He is also fantastic in the emotion packed scene when Bella stands up to her mother's vile behavior and he shines when he tells Uncle Louie to leave the two boys alone. Matthew's timing with comic lines is topnotch. They make the audience believe they could be brothers in real life. This is 11 year old Matthew debut on stage.
The other dysfunctional family members are the mobster, Uncle Louie, the speech impaired, Aunt Gert and their emotional, father, Eddie. Ara Bohigian is fantastic as Louie. He has the gangster swagger and tough talk with the boys down pat and Louie knows how to handle his tough mother. Ara brings the comic aspect out in this crazy family setting but also shows Louie's soft spot for Bella when he gives her money she needs. He is dynamic in this role. Tray Gearing does a wonderful job as Gert with her comic breathing in and out on her lines. She also displays Gert's nervous behavior around her mother and her warmth for Bella with a hug. Joe Henderson as Eddie, plays the role with a great deal of emotion. He garners the empathy of the audience when he describes the death of his wife, his leaving of his sons with his awful mother and the financial troubles that he is in. So for a marvelous rendition of this Pulitzer prize winning Neil Simon show, be sure to catch "Lost in Yonkers". It is the must see production of this winter season. I have many fond memories of this show, having directed it back in 2002.