Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Lost in Yonkers"

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entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"Lost in Yonkers"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of The Players 103rd season is the 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning, Neil Simon show, "Lost in Yonkers". The show is set in 1942 and examines the relationships in the emotionally crippled Kurnitz family. It 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 to 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 and create a life and family of her own. Bella's brother Louie is a small-time, tough-talking hoodlum who is on the run, while sister Gert suffers from a breathing problem which cause is more psychological than physical. 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 Tom DiMaggio mixes the comic and dramatic moments wonderfully, leaving the audience laughing and crying at the appropriate times.

The cast is lead by two strong actresses. Carol Schlink plays Bella, an affectionate 40 year old who is mildly retarded. She wants the same things normal women want but her mother smothers her with a stern unbending hand. Carol 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 life to the fullest. Carol's portrayal of Bella is fantastic and she shines in this role. Linda Monchik makes this German monster, Grandma come to life. Her bitchy, mean-spirited behavior hides her true hurt at the death of her young son many years ago. Both Linda and Carol's interactions with each other and the rest of the cast are wonderful to behold.

The youngest cast members are marvelous in their roles, stealing many scenes with their strong acting abilities. 16 year old, David O'Connell as Jay and 13 year old, Benjamin Wilkie as Arty are the boys left to live with their terrible, unemotional grandmother after their mother's death. They shine in their time on stage. Both handle their huge 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. David has tears in his eyes as the father is getting ready to leave them as well as in the emotion packed scene when Bella stands up to her vile behaving mother. Benjamin's timing with the comic lines is topnotch. David and Benjamin act very naturally in their roles, making the audience believe they could be brothers in real life. Both boys have a bright future in theatre with their spectacular performances in this show. Bravo!

The other dysfunctional members of the family are the mobster, Uncle Louie, the speech impaired, Aunt Gert and their emotional, father, Eddie. Jim Brown makes Louie into a scene stealer with his swagger and tough talking with the boys. He brings the comic aspect out in this crazy family setting. He also shows he still has a soft spot when he helps Bella out with her boyfriend by giving her the money she needs. Susan Catherine Collyer as Gert shows her character's speech defect of breathing in and out on her lines. She shows her warmth to Bella with a hug. Steven Palmer plays, Eddie, the boy's father with great warmth. He makes you feel for him during the early moments with his despair at the death of his wife, his leaving of his sons with his awful mother and the financial troubles that led him into this situation. Tom designed the gorgeous 1940's set which was built by Mark Gentsch. So for an excellent show, be sure to catch Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers". I have fond memories of this show, having directed it back in 2002. To become a member of this Theatre Club, give Lydia a call.

"Lost in Yonkers" (27 January - 5 February)
@ Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide