Off Broadway Theater Review: LOST IN YONKERS (The Beckett Theatre/Theatre Row)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on April 7, 2012

in Theater-New York

SIMON’S LOST IS FOUND

The disappointing turnout for The Neil Simon Plays on Broadway in 2009 suggested that Neil Simon’s style of dysfunctional family comedy, a mainstay of The Great White Way, was suddenly passé.  Brighton Beach Memoirs barely drew an audience, closing within two months, and the planned companion production of Broadway Bound never opened.

Fortunately, a delightful off-Broadway production of Lost in Yonkers by The Actors Company Theatre substantiates that there is still an audience for this brand of drama, and Simon’s work sparkles on such an intimate scale.

In the early 1940s, Jay and Arty move in with their Grandma Kurnitz when their debt-ridden father has to take a job as a traveling salesman. Whether hobbling across the living room or hunched in her chair in stern silence, Cynthia Harris commands the stage as the harsh immigrant grandmother.  Her survival principles may put a roof over the boys’ heads and food on the table, but the unflinching Grandma Kurnitz refuses to show any love or affection.

This leaves smart-aleck Jay (the superb Matthew Gumley) to look out for his snippy younger brother Arty (adorable Russell Posner) in their dad’s absence. Their playful antics are an endearing comic core of the production, aided and abetted by their visiting gangster uncle Louie (Alec Beard) and their sweet, simple minded aunt Bella (Finnerty Steeves).

Steeves gives a particularly heart-wrenching performance as Bella, a woman starved for connection. She continually counters Grandma Kurnitz’s heart of stone with a youthful enthusiasm and longing for more love than she has experienced in her own life.

With solid direction by Jenn Thompson, TACT’s Lost in Yonkers may be showing its age, but we should not be too hasty to dismiss its enduring pleasures.

photos by Stephen Kunken

Lost in Yonkers
The Actors Company Theatre in New York
scheduled to end on April 14
for tickets, visit http://www.tactnyc.org/resources/Lost_in_Yonkers_2.php

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