Monday, October 15, 2012

LOST IN YONKERS • New Jewish Theatre

Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is considered by many to be one of his best, and it's currently receiving a wonderfully heartfelt production opening the 16th season at the NJT.

As the show begins, 15 and 13 year old brothers, Jay (Robert Love) and Arty (Leo B. Ramsey), are uncomfortably waiting in their Grandma's stuffy New York apartment.  Grandma Kurnitz (Nancy Lewis) is an elderly widow living above her candy store.  She's a German immigrant who has seen a lot of, and been the victim of, much turbulence and grief, and she has come out the other side thick-skinned and hard-boiled.  She doesn't suffer the weak gladly, and this includes her children.  In fact, it seems Grandma doesn't really do anything "gladly".  One of her daughters, Bella (Kelley Weber), lives with her and helps run the store.  Bella is childlike and easily distracted, constantly under the stern thumb of her mother, yet she's also buoyant, resilient and longing for connection with anyone outside of their Yonkers apartment.  Her older brother Eddie (Gary Glasgow) has dropped by with his two boys trailing behind.  Eddie needs a place for them to stay while he hits the southern road to sell scrap metal, trying to pay off the debt he accrued from a loan shark when his late wife was in the hospital.  The boys, still grieving, are terrified at the prospect of staying more than an hour at Grandma's apartment, much less several months, but their father is left with no choice, and Grandma begrudgingly takes them in.

Gary Glasgow (Eddie), Nancy Lewis (Grandma Kurnitz),
Robert Love (Jay), Kelley Weber (Bella) and Leo B. Ramsey (Arty)
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
The boy's adjustment to about a year spent with Grandma -- and her cane, along with their often comedic observations about their injured family, is positioned as the focus of the play, but the interactions between Grandma Kurnitz and Bella, complete opposites, is where the dramatic center seems to truly rest.  Their relationship is intriguing to watch, but also a little heartbreaking.  Along the way we also meet Eddie and Bella's brother Louie (Michael Scott Rash), a colorful character who works with the mob, and another sister Gert (Sigrid Sutter) -- so fearful of her mother than she can barely make it through a sentence without losing her breath.

Robert Love (Jay), Michael Scott Rash (Louie)
and Leo B. Ramsey (Arty)
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Under Doug Finlayson's solid direction, all of the performances ring true in this play.  Love as the older brother Jay makes his professional debut in this production, and he turns in a skilled performance.  Ramsey also turns in a fully inhabited performance as the younger, jumpier brother, Arty.  They're both easy to like and it's comfortable to view the action from their perspectives.  Grandma Kurnitz is like that older relative you were always petrified of, and Lewis delivers just that from her first appearance.  But she also shows you a bit of vulnerable sunlight that leaks through, as it's obvious how much she cares for her grandchildren.  Even though poor Bella isn't quite all there, she is incredibly endearing nonetheless, particularly due to the genuine performance of Kelley Weber.  Her's is a very rewarding character to watch.  Michael Scott Rash's Louie thrills the boys with his secreted goings-on, but also manages to impart some lessons for them as well.  Sigrid Sutter as Gert is only in one scene, but she gives you a little more insight into the affect Grandma has had on the family, along with providing a bit of comic relief.  The set courtesy of Justin Barisonek along with lights and costumes by Michael Sullivan and Michele Friedman Siler all contribute beautifully to this top-notch production.

It's a great play.  So basically, get Lost!  In Yonkers...  It's playing until the 21st.

Nancy Lewis (Grandma Kurnitz)
and Kelley Weber (Bella)
              Photo credit: Peter Wochniak


Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through October 21 | tickets: $35.50 - $39.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm

Nancy Lewis (Grandma Kurnitz), Robert Love (Jay), Leo B. Ramsey (Arty), Gary Glasgow* (Eddie), Kelley Weber (Bella), Michael Scott Rash (Louie) and Sigrid Sutter (Gert).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Justin Barisonek; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; scenic artist, Cristie Johnston; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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