Reviewed by Tony Annicone
New England Repertory Company’s current show is “Lost in Yonkers”, Neil Simon’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning play. New England Rep’s new performing space is at Sinai Stage. This show is set in 1942 and it examines the relationships of the emotionally crippled Kurnitz family. It is the coming of age story that focuses on two brothers, Artie and Jay, left in the care of their Grandmother Kurnitz and their Aunt Bella in Yonkers, NY.
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 them in varying degrees. Bella is sweet but mentally slow and highly excitable woman who wants to marry the usher at a local movie theatre so she can escape her oppressive household. Bella’s brother, Louie is a small time, tough talking hoodlum who is on the run, while sister, Gert suffers from breathing problems whose case is more psychological than physical. Neil Simon shows why the five adults in this show have become they way they are and how it affects the two teenage boys left in their midst. Director Mike Kiernan blends the comic and dramatic moments together marvelously, leaving the audience laughing and crying at all the appropriate moments. His assistant director Petr Favazza just completed his five year courses at Carnegie Mellon and is headed for CA. He also played Jay the last time NERC did this show. The talented cast receives a thunderous standing ovation at the close of this show.
Leading the cast are two strong actresses. Megan McKeen plays Bella, an affectionate 35 year old who is mildly retarded. Bella wants the same thing other women want, getting married and having a family. However her mother smothers her longings with a stern unbending hand. plays the sympathetic character wonderfully especially when she makes the audience cry when she finally stands up to her overbearing mother to let her live her life to the fullest. Alice Springer brings this German monster of a grandmother to life. Her bitchy, mean spirited behavior hides her true hurt of losing her young son many years ago. Alice makes you dislike this character until you find out her true motives for her behavior. They set a high standard for the other performers.
The two youngest cast members do a splendid job in their roles, stealing many scenes along the way with their strong acting ability. Luke Oliver Lawson as Jay and Aaron Tamkin as Artie play the boys left to live with their terrible, unemotional grandmother after the death of their mother. They shine in their time on the stage and handle their enormous amount of dialogue with the ease of veteran performers. They make the humor, pathos and fright of their plight of living in Yonkers, a joy to watch. Luke has a choked up voice and tears in his eyes when his father leaves them in Yonkers. He is also fabulous in the emotion packed scene when Bella finally stands up to her mother’s vile behavior as well as in the scene where he stands up to his Uncle Louie’s bullying of both boys. Aaron’s timing with lines is fabulous. His funny one liners obtain much laughter all night long and his eating of the horrible soup is a laugh out loud moment. They make the audience believe they could be brothers in real life, too.
The other dysfunctional family members are the mobster, Uncle Louie, the speech impaired, Aunt Gert and the boy’s emotional father, Eddie. Chris DiOrio is terrific as the scene stealing Louie. He has the gangster swagger and tough talk with the boys down pat. Louie is also able to handle his mother. brings out the comic aspect of the character but shows his soft spot for Bella when he gives her the money she needs. Ronni Hochman does a wonderful job as Gert with her comic breathing in and out as she says her lines. She displays Gert’s nervousness around her mother and her warmth for Bella after their mother devastates the plans to marry Johnny, the usher. Joe LaGreca as Eddie, garners the empathy of the audience when he describes the death of his wife, his leaving of his sons with his dreadful mother and the financial trouble he is in. So for a fantastic rendition of this Pulitzer Prize winning Neil Simon show, be sure to catch “Lost in Yonkers” by New England Repertory Theatre Company at Sinai Stage in Sharon. It will make you laugh and cry in all the right times in this well written script. I have many fond and pleasant memories of this show having directed it back in 2002.
LOST IN YONKERS (12 to 20 August)
New England Repertory Company, Sinai Stage, 25 Canton St, Sharon, MA
1(781)269-9866 or www.newenglandrep.org