Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Walpole Footlighters closing show of their 93rd season is Neil Simon’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Lost in Yonkers.” The show is set in 1942 and examines the relationships in the emotionally crippled Kurnitz family. The show is a coming of age tale that focuses on two brothers, Artie and Jay left in the care of their Grandmother Kurnitz and their Aunt Bella. Their desperate father, Eddie,
works as a traveling salesman to pay off the 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 them in varying degrees. Bella is a sweet but mentally slow and highly excitable woman who longs to marry the movie usher at a local theatre to escape the opressive 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 play became they way they are and how that affects the two teenage boys left in their midst. Director Peter Bradley blends the comic and dramatic moments together splendidly, leaving the audience laughing and crying at all the appropriate moments.
The cast is lead by two powerhouse actresses. Pretty brunette, Melissa Pinzari plays Bella, an affectionate 35 year old woman who is mildly retarded. Bella wants the same things other women want like getting married and having a family. However her mother smothers her longings with a stern unbending hand. Melissa plays this character splendidly especially in the dramatic confrontation scenes with her mother in Act 2. She makes the audience cry when she pleads with her mother to let her marry the movie usher. She also shines in the next scene when she stands up to her mother at last to let her live her life to the fullest. Karen Wadland is superb as this German cold hearted grandmother who wants her family to be made of steel. Her spiteful nature and mean spiritedness hides her hurt at the death of her 12 year old son years ago. Karen’s acting prowess makes you hate this woman at first until you find out the true reason for her behavior. I first reviewed her as Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit” and last reviewed her as the grandmother in “Billy Elliot” both at Company Theatre in Norwell, MA. This proves Karen is able to handle both comic and dramatic roles with finesse.
The youngest cast members are marvelous in their roles, stealing many a scene along the way with their strong acting prowess. 17 year old Riley Mulroy as Jay and 12 year old Colin Wilber as Arty play the boys left to live with their terrible unemotional grandmother after the death of their mother. They shine with their time on the stage and their enormous amount of dialogue. They make the humor, pathos and fright of their plight in Yonkers, a joy to watch. Riley’s crying in the opening scene and his tortured looks at the Bella and grandmother argument scene is terrific. He also excels the scene with Louie in Act 2. Colin’s timing with his comic lines is marvelous to behold. They make the audience believe that they could really be brothers in real life. Bravo on a job well done!
The other dysfunctional family members are the mobster, Louie, the speech impaired, Gert and the boys emotional father, Eddie. Ken Golnor plays the comic role of Uncle Louie. He captures the swagger and tough talk of this small town hood with the boys. He brings out the comic aspect of the character but also shows Louie’s tender spot for Bella when he gives her the $5000 she needs. Rounding out the cast is Matthew Kinney who plays the worry wart father, Eddie while Cynthia Small is Aunt Gert with the breathing problems. So for a wonderful rendition of this award winning Neil Simon show, be sure to catch “Lost in Yonkers” in Walpole. I have many fond memories of this show having directed it back in 2002.
LOST IN YONKERS (5 to 21 May)
Walpole Footlighters, 5 Scout Road, Walpole, MA
1(508)668-8446 or www.footlighters.com