Lost in Yonkers
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
March 17, 2012
I have a hard time considering Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers a neglected, rarely seen classic. I remember reading it in high school. I’ve seen ads for countless college, stock and amateur stagings across the country. In 2010 alone, two major regional houses, San Diego’s Old Globe and New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse, offered revivals. Yet Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning bittersweet comedy apparently has not had a production originating in New York City since its 1991 Broadway berth.
That’s why TACT, The Actors Company Theatre, whose mission is to bring to life these plays of merit which aren’t frequently seen in our neck of the woods, claims it’s an ideal fit. While I still can’t bring myself to call it neglected, Jenn Thompson’s beautifully conceived revival at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, which features seven tip-top performances and slight revisions with permission of the playwright, captures the play’s humor and its deeply wounded, yet thoroughly thumping heart.
It’s 1942. Jay (Matthew Gumley) and Arty (Russell Posner) have been sent to live in the Yonkers home of their taciturn and guarded Grandma (Cynthia Harris), after their father Eddie (Dominic Comperatore) decides to take a job as a traveling salesman to pay off debts incurred by his late wife’s medical bills. Years of unhappiness have hardened Grandma, a German-Jewish immigrant who still runs the family candy shop well into her old age, and have directly caused irrevocable damage to her living children—Bella (Finnerty Steeves), slow and excitable; Louie (Alec Beard), a thief and presumably low-level wise guy); and Gert (Stephanie Cozart), who suffers from potentially psychosomatic breathing issues.
Lost in Yonkers contains two of Simon’s most vivid roles for women, Bella, the grown daughter who yearns to break free from her mother’s confines (they live together, and she’s her erstwhile caregiver), and Grandma, who doesn’t believe that her daughter, who was diagnosed as having the mentality of a child, can handle the outside world. The climactic confrontation between mother and daughter is both wrenching and electric in the hands of Harris, who sheds the Jewish motherly warmth she displayed throughout the run of television’s Mad About You for something far more imposing and frightening, and Steeves, downright heartbreaking as she blends Bella’s childish innocence with dreams of grandeur she knows she’ll never achieve. Beard is hilarious as Uncle Louie, while his nephews are played with charm by Gumley and Posner. Posner, in particular, makes a screamingly funny theatrical debut, displaying an unwavering deadpan that many mature comedians can only wish to achieve. Cozart and Comperatore nicely play their supporting roles.
Textually, the play has been slightly altered to remove Eddie’s presence (in the form of letters and monologues) after he drops his sons off with his mother. The parallels between the two brothers, strangers in a strange land that must adapt to their surroundings in order to survive, and their Grandmother, who did the same when she came to this country, are made even more striking. I’m still hesitant to call Lost in Yonkers a “neglected classic,” but this certainly is a worthy production.