Reviewed By Ray Zuwallack
After experiencing the warmly satisfying revival of “Lost in Yonkers” by Nemasket River Productions it amazes me that it has taken two decades for this Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 1991 Neil Simon play to come to my attention!
Similar to his Bright Beach trilogy, Simon is working here not as king of the snappy one-liner but from the heart, with a depth of character and humanity that place “Lost in Yonkers” among his more affecting works.
The insightful and straightforward director, Mike Pevzner, and his accomplished cast strike an ideal balance between poignancy and humor in this modest, carefully calibrated production. The music is wonderful, the sound of the 1930’s and 40’s is not only nostalgically retro its currently hip!
The action is filtered through the eyes of 16-year-old Jay played with great skill and poise by Ethan Child and his cherubic cheeked younger brother, Arty, Owen Connolly, who’s natural reactions and easy humor endear him to the audience. When their father, Eddie, played with great compassion by Brian Hurley, is forced to take a job on the road to pay off debt from his deceased wife’s cancer treatment, the two junior Bronx boys are sent to stay with their unwelcoming Grandma Kurnitz (the unflinchingly stone faced Elizabeth Morrell).
A steely Jewish refugee from Germany, Grandma lives above her candy store in Yonkers, but there’s nothing sweet about her. That deficit is countered by the boys’ over excitable Aunt Bella (the ever sensitive and tender Corinne Mason), a childlike woman in her mid-30s, described by Jay as “closed for repairs.” Thanks to winning work from the young actors, the play glides through familiar coming-of-age territory amiably enough. But its real dramatic engine is the slowcombustion clash between unyielding Grandma and emotionally starved Bella.
On Broadway, Irene Worth and Mercedes Ruehl won Tonys for those roles. In this local production Corinne Mason and Elizabeth Morrell permeate the characters with complex layers of painful experience.
Having witnessed violence as a girl and endured the loss of two of her six children to illness, Grandma has encased herself in loveless solitude. Like stunted Bella and timid Eddie, her other remaining adult children carry the legacy of her fearsome coldness. Gert (the indomitable Jess Wilson) is a walking respiratory complaint, and Louie (the very entertaining & charming Paul Collins), a swaggering bagman for the mob, attributes his toughness to Ma’s example.
Not only is the cast a treat to watch, the set work by Max Verga, is welcoming to the eyes and reassuringly vintage; while the sound and tech crew create another time and space right before our eyes. This lovely production suggests that there’s much to savor in NRP’s opening show of their 17th Season in Middleborough.
Don’t miss the final two weekends of NRP’s spring show, April 22,23, 29,30 at The Alley Theatre. Evening performances are at 8pm. All performances can be combined with a “Dinner and a Show” special, a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000. Three course meal including glass of wine & taxes for $20.00 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. Or call NRP box office at 866-244-0448 for reservations or for online ticket sales visit NRP website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com.