Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning tender comic masterwork about two young boys coming of age in a zany family of colorful characters in the “City of Gracious Living” in 1942.
March 31 – April 17, 2016
by Neil Simon
directed by George A. Loizides
Jay – JAMIE BAIO
Arty – CHRISTOPHER DARRIN
Bella – REBECCA EDANA
Louie – EDWARD KASSAR
Gert – CATHERINE MALONEY
Grandma Kurnitz – DIANA MARBURY
Eddie – RUSSELL WEISENBACHER
(Jay) is excited to be making his Hampton Theatre Company debut under the direction of George Loizides and working with this talented cast. His most recent credits include Calvin Berger
(Calvin) with Actors Care Theatre and Curtains
(Aaron Fox), Little Shop of Horrors
(Seymour Krelborn), Kiss Me Kate
(Bill Calhoun) and You Can’t Take It with You
(Ed Carmichael) at Sayville High School, as well as ensemble roles in Young Frankenstein, Grease
and Beauty and the Beast
at Ward Melville High School. He would like to thank his family for their constant support and encouragement.
(Arty) is excited to make his debut with the Hampton Theatre Company. At the ripe old age of 12, he has been blessed to appear on the TV show Donny!
(Sammy Shoals) on the USA Network, and in Merrily We Roll Along
(Frank Jr.) and Allegro
(Young Joe) at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, A Christmas Story
(Grover Dill) at the John Engeman Theater, Peter Pan
(John Darling) at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, and Gypsy
(Clarence/Newsboy) at CMPAC. Christopher is also a ballroom dance competitor, plays piano, guitar and bass and was lead singer in bands that played at 89 North, Napper Tandy’s and Katie’s. Thank you, George, for this opportunity. Thanks also to Joan Stephens, Dave McKeown (SGM), Gene Sicard (Trendset Studios), Mike Rodriguez and Patti Panebianco (DanceSport), Frank Ohman, James Erickson, Musicology, NXG Dance, Mom, Dad and Marky. www.christopherdarrin.com
(Bella) appeared most recently with the Hampton Theatre Company as Jenny in Dead Accounts
. She also played Betsy/Lindsey in Clybourne Park
, Jan in Bedroom Farce
and Maddie in Desperate Affection
with HTC and Fraulein Kost in Center Stage’s Cabaret
. She has been in numerous independent films including Greetings From Bushwick
, as well as theater productions and improv troupes. Her favorite shows include Talk Radio, Happy Hour
and Sweet Charity
. She would like to thank her family for their tireless support and endless encouragement.
(Louie) played Lawrence Garfinkle in HTC’s production of Other People’s Money
as well as Steve in Becky’s New Car
, Joseph in My Three Angels
, Gary in I Hate Hamlet
, Richard in Desperate Affection
, Mike Talman in Wait Until Dark
, Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross
, Mike in Breaking Legs
, Lennie in Of Mice and Men
, and Limping Man in Fuddy Meers
. Other theatrical credits include The Zoo Story, ‘ART’, Misery, Hurlyburly, Goose and Tomtom, A Streetcar Named Desire, Same Time Next Year, Buried Child, Not About Nightingales, The Nerd, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Balcony
and La Ronde
. Film credits include Unlikely Prophets, Dying for Dollars, Overdrive, Mook, Sushi Bar, Mulligan Farm, Down Clown, Nine Out of Ten, If I Only Knew
and Scallop Pond
. Thanks to Mom, Dad, Cara, family and friends for their support.
(Gert) is thrilled to return to the HTC stage after making her company debut as Emilie Ducotel in My Three Angels
and playing Mrs. Chumley in last season’s Harvey!
Catherine just completed a wonderful run in the title role of Becky’s New Car
at North Fork Community Theatre where she also appeared as Truvy in Steel Magnolias
and Masha in The Three Sisters
. Other appearances include diverse roles in Love, Loss, and What I Wore
at Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center. She is delighted to be working with George for the first time, and thankful for this talented cast, all the hard working behind-the-scenes staff, crew members and wonderful volunteers. Much love to JP, Allegra, Ally & Greg, and to all her friends!
(Grandma Kunitz, Set Decor) is delighted to be a part of this production and working with this talented group. She has appeared in more than 50 HTC productions, most recently as Barbara in Dead Accounts
. Diana wears many hats for the company, and looks forward to putting on the director’s cap again this spring for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
. She would like to dedicate this performance to her beloved friend and gifted mentor, Jane Stanton, who put the HTC on the map. She will be sorely missed.
(Eddie) made his HTC debut last season as Duane Wilson in Harvey!
He has appeared with the Community Theatre Company (CTC) in East Hampton in Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me, Kate
and Wonderful Town
. Other local productions include Show Boat, Our Town
and Death of a Salesman
. When not “treading the boards,” Russell works as the I.T. Coordinator at the Quogue Library and, for the past 38 years, has worked with the Quogue Junior Theater Troupe (QJTT), first as an actor and then as Technical Director. Russell is looking forward to working once again with all the great people both in front of and behind the scenes at HTC.
(Playwright) is the author of more than 30 plays, many of them Broadway comedy hits. Among them are Rumors
(presented by the HTC in both 1992 and 2002), Barefoot in the Park, Plaza Suite, Broadway Bound, The Sunshine Boys, California Suite, Biloxi Blues
(1985 Tony Award), Chapter Two, Laughter on the 23rd Floor
and Lost in Yonkers
, winner of the 1991 Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. He has also adapted many of his plays for the screen and written numerous original screenplays, including The Out-of-Towners, The Heartbreak Kid, Murder by Death
and The Goodbye Girl
GEORGE A. LOIZIDES
(Director) has directed Bus Stop, Picnic
and The Odd Couple
(female version) for the Hampton Theatre Company and appeared with the company in Glengarry Glen Ross, Bedroom Farce
and, most recently, Heroes
. George has been an actor and director for more than 45 years. For 27 years, he was Director of Theatre Arts for Ward Melville High School, where he directed 81 productions. He attended HB Studio in NYC where he studied acting and directing. Other directing credits include Private Lives, Our Town, The Laramie Project,
and several of Shakespeare’s plays. Thanks to HTC for the opportunity to work with this fine company. To the cast, “Thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.” To Kathy, special thanks.
(Set Designer). As founder and principal designer for PTB Design Services, Peter-Tolin Baker provides creative visual design solutions for a range of retail brands, exhibitions and promotional events. Previously, Baker oversaw all product presentations and in-store promotions worldwide for Tiffany & Co. He launched his retail career as the visual manager for the legendary luxury emporium Henri Bendel New York. Additional commercial design experience includes clothing design and display prop construction. Earlier on in his career, he was both production designer and performer with the groundbreaking band Voice Farm, which played frequently to sold-out crowds in venues such as the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles and The Fillmore in San Francisco. Throughout his career Baker has continued to work as scenic designer on dozens of productions, including HTC’s Clybourne Park, Hay Fever, An Inspector Calls
and Dead Accounts
(Lighting Designer) first worked with the Hampton Theatre Company when he designed the company’s 2003 production of Summer and Smoke
at Guild Hall and has designed all the company’s productions since Proof
in 2004 as well as the theater’s new lighting system. He has designed lighting for theater, dance and special events in a number of Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and regional venues. He has also worked in film and television as the director of photography. He has designed numerous productions for Guild Hall and for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.
(Costume Designer) is the resident costumer for the Hampton Theatre Company. She started helping with costumes in 1986 and has designed the costumes for all the company’s productions since 2005. Teresa also costumes for Center Moriches and Westhampton Beach high schools. She is so happy to be working with her good pal George again and Kathy too! Much love to her boys Josh and Noah, family and great friends. This one’s for you, Jane!
(Stage Manager) is thrilled to be reunited with director George Loizides after doing Heroes
together in 2014. A heartfelt thank you to George for his never-ending support and compassion as she transitioned into the position of Stage Manager. To the wonderful talented cast, techies, designers and construction crew, you make the show come to life. Anything is possible when you have the ones you love by your side, Kristopher, Theresa, Matthew, Samantha and a very special angel from above.
MARYAM (Rob) DOWLING
(Lighting & Sound Technician) has done lighting and sound for 22 years with various theater groups on the East End. Maryam has also helped Sebastian with lighting setup at Guild Hall, the Ross School, and other local venues. This is Maryam’s seventh season with the Hampton Theatre Company and she is very happy to be part of the show and the company.
HAMPTON THEATRE COMPANY
(Producer) is in its 31st season of bringing wonderful plays to Long Island’s East End. Thanks to the generosity and unstinting support of the Village of Quogue, 23 of those years have been spent at the beautiful Quogue Community Hall. The company has presented more than 100 plays by the world’s greatest playwrights, all listed in these pages, and is immensely grateful to our generous patrons, friends and audience members who have made these years such a success.
Director – GEORGE A. LOIZIDES
Set Design – PETER-TOLIN BAKER
Lighting Design – SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI
Costume Design – TERESA LEBRUN
Set Decor & Properties – DIANA MARBURY
Stage Manager – CHRISSIE DEPIERRO
Assistant Stage Manager – AMANDA GRIEMSMANN
Set Construction – MATTHEW CONLON, JAMES EWING, GEORGE LOIZIDES, SEAN MARBURY, SEAMUS NAUGHTON, VINCENT RASULO, ROB SANTORO
Sound Design – GEORGE LOIZIDES, SEAMUS NAUGHTON
Lighting/Sound Tech – MARYAM (Rob) DOWLING, SEAMUS NAUGHTON
Production Graphics – JOE PALLISTER
Playbill – SARAH HUNNEWELL
House Manager – JULIA MORGAN ABRAMS
Advertising Sales – CATHY SCHWARTZ
Production Photographer – TOM KOCHIE
MORE ABOUT THE PLAY / THE PLAYWRIGHT
It is the summer of 1942 and Jay and Arty, aged 13 and 15, are deposited without ceremony at their grandmother’s hothouse apartment above the family candy store in Yonkers. They are extremely uncomfortable and not a little afraid, but their mother has recently died and their father Eddie must travel for work in order to pay off mounting debts.
Grandma Kurnitz, an Old World matriarch, runs the household with an iron fist, overseeing a crazy quilt of colorful, if semi-dysfunctional, family members: Aunt Bella, a loving if emotionally arrested child-woman yearning for independence; Uncle Louie, a flamboyant small-time hoodlum on the lam; and Aunt Gert, whose fear of her mother has left her with a bizarre and comical speech impediment.
Jay, striving for maturity, and Arty, a precocious observer and jokester, scheme with Bella to find hidden money so they can free their father from debt and escape and Bella can be free to marry. Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning comedy with a huge heart is an autobiographical coming-of-age story, with antic and colorful characters swept into a tangle of bewildering family relationships that yield both laughter and anguish.
Neil Simon is best known for his uncanny ability to create humor from the lives and troubles of everyday people. Born on July 4, 1927, Simon grew up in Manhattan and became one of America’s most successful and prolific playwrights, with more than 30 plays to his credit. His first Broadway hit came in 1961 with Come Blow Your Horn, followed by the highly successful comic romance, Barefoot in the Park (1963). Thus began a remarkable career that spanned four decades, churning out such stage hits as The Odd Couple (1965) — regarded by many as the most perfect comedy ever written, and equally successful as a film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau — Plaza Suite (1968), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), The Sunshine Boys (1972), Chapter Two (1977), They’re Playing Our Song (1979), I Ought to Be in Pictures (1980), and Rumors (1988).
Simon also wrote numerous original screenplays, including “The Out-of-Towners,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Murder by Death,” and “The Goodbye Girl.” Though the playwright continuously mined his own life experience, people he knew and beloved neighborhoods for material, his most touching portrayal of New York City’s social milieu was in his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), which made a star of Matthew Broderick, Biloxy Blues (1985), for which he won a Tony Award, and Broadway Bound (1986). Following the trilogy’s critical acclaim, and drawing on similar autobiographical themes, Simon wrote Lost in Yonkers (1991), which won both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize, an award the playwright believed he would never receive.
Neil Simon Pulitzer winner in Quogue
By Steve Parks (Newsday)
A title can make all the difference. Neil Simon might’ve considered “Bonkers in Yonkers” for his 1991 play, still listed by the licensing agency Samuel French as a “dramatic comedy.” Instead, he went with “Lost in Yonkers” for his memory play that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Regarded as the finest work by America’s most successful comic playwright of the 20th century, “Lost” followed his “BB” trilogy of semi-autobiographicals — “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” — that proved Simon was more than a gifted gag writer.
“Lost in Yonkers” takes us back to the World War II homefront in a finely crafted re-enactment directed by George Loizides for the Hampton Theatre Company. The Quogue-based troupe specializing in drawing-room plays — often reflecting Hamptons-scale affluence — goes downscale with a doily- and throw-laced living room set by Peter-Tolin Baker, time-of-day lit by Sebastian Paczynski and dressed in Teresa LeBrun’s vintage costumes. The Yonkers apartment, ironically perched atop a candy store, becomes the temporary home of two nice Jewish boys left behind by their father so that he can go on the road for the war effort to repay $9,000 in cancer-treatment loans that couldn’t save his wife.
Almost more frightening than to lose their dad for a year so soon after losing their mom forever is the prospect of living with their tyrannical grandmother, played with a severe case of survivor’s guilt by Diana Marbury. Grandma Kurnitz, who buried a husband and two children, has no room in her life for hugs or humor. Marbury captures Grandma’s self-inflicted wounds with a bitterness that evokes grudging pity. The boys — Christopher Darrin as disarmingly clever Arty and protectively scheming Jamie Baio as big bro Jay — engagingly reflect the relationship Simon penned for himself and his real-life elder Danny.
Beyond their timid dad (Russell Weisenbacher), his siblings’ maternal-inflicted pain is brought to life in disparate forms through Louie, Edward Kassar’s wisecracking gangster bagman, who out-toughs everyone but Mama, and Catherine Maloney as Gert, so afraid to speak around Mama that she inhales the end of each sentence. But no one suffers Mama’s tyranny more than Bella. A child in a woman’s body, Bella, crushingly vibrant and vexed as played by Rebecca Edana, most reflects the affliction of the Kurnitz curse.
For a viscerally emotional realization of Neil Simon’s masterpiece, don’t miss HTC’s “Lost.”
Finding the Heart of a Neil Simon Family
by Beth Young (East End Beacon)
There is no play in Neil Simon’s oeuvre more autobiographical than “Lost in Yonkers,” the playwright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1991 work that follows two teenage boys to their grandmother’s house in Yonkers, where they wait out a wartime year while their father travels the country working to pay back the loan shark debts that kept his wife’s last days on earth from being too difficult to bear.
It’s the tender humor of family trouble that makes this play such a gem, and also makes it such rich material for the veteran board-treaders of Quogue.
But this play shines, in part, because of two newcomers to the HTC stage.
The young actors Christopher Darrin as 12-year-old Artie and Jamie Baio as 15-year-old Jay do a fine job of playing a couple of street-smart half-orphan sons who suck up their troubles for the sake of their emotionally impoverished family.
Younger Artie, with his slicked-back hair and his tough-guy attitude, is one kid who knows what’s really going on and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the ripe old age of 12, Christopher Darrin gets it.
Mr. Baio, a veteran of the stages at Sayville and Ward Melville high schools, is the family mediator, polishing his clan’s mythologies with a charming doe-eyed sincerity that just thinly hides his pain.
Rebecca Edana bowled over the opening night crowd as addled Aunt Bella — her confused and cockeyed good nature fuses with exceptional comedic timing in a performance not to be missed. I’ve seen her perform three times now at HTC, and this role gives her the most room to shine. She runs with it.
Her brother Louie is played by Edward Kassar with all the sorts of hardness for the world and softness for his family that you’d expect from bag man for the mob. He seems to be one man in his undershirt confessing his lack of feelings to his cold mother, and another man, a stranger, in a pinstripe suit peeking through the blinds waiting to make his exit.
The lighting, by Sebastian Paczynski, is pitch perfect — it is warm with incandescent glow of hallways and bedrooms at night, clear as a sunshiny day glimpsed through the springtime windows, ominous for mobsters and clear-on to the shade-drawn dinge of an upstairs apartment on a hot summer day.
Diana Marbury has had a great run of recent motherly roles at HTC, but in this role as Grandma Kurnitz, well, she takes the cake, hides it in a low cabinet down in Kurnitz’s Kandy Shop, and accuses everyone else of stealing it.
Even the audience flinches when she looks at her family down the barrel of her cane. We winced at every tortured step she took. She had razor wire for brains, wrapped inside a thick German head full of tortured tearless logic.
It’s family life tinged with just such logic that made Neil Simon the playwright he is, and it’s the universality of all of our family delusions that make the heavy parts of this play, which isn’t thoroughly a comedy, as tender and necessary as the jokes.
“I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude,” he once wrote.
Director George Loizides acknowledges the humanity of this idea in his playbill introduction to this production.
“Lost in Yonkers is considered Simon’s best play, in part because it is not a typical comedy,” he writes. “The play is a hybrid, brilliantly weaving comedy and drama into a unified masterwork, about the bonds that stretch across generations to help us shape our own identities and give us a sense of belonging.”
We were pleased to see how well-tuned this production had become by opening night, and there are still more than two weeks left for the cast to continue to shine. If you’re planning to see any live theater on the East End this season, this is the play to see.
“Lost in Yonkers” continues at the Quogue Community Hall through April 17. Thursday and Friday showtimes are 7 p.m., Saturday showtimes are 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and are available online here.
Review: Hampton Theatre Company’s “Lost in Yonkers”
By Dylan Hoffmann (Dan’s Papers)
Hampton Theatre Company’s current production of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” is sure to move audiences as much as it inspires laughter. A play that begins quite lightly as a family comedy blooms into a somber tale of the hereditary nature of pain through the generations and the attempts to escape it.
“Lost in Yonkers” originally debuted in December of 1990 in North Carolina, subsequently moving in early 1991 to Broadway for a production starring Mercedes Ruehl (Big, The Fisher King) as Aunt Bella and Kevin Spacey as Uncle Louie. The play earned Simon the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in that year, which later spawned the film adaptation, also penned by Simon, in 1993, keeping Ruehl as Aunt Bella and casting Richard Dreyfuss as Uncle Louie.
Set in Yonkers in 1942, the play opens with brothers Jay (Jamie Baio) and Arty (Christopher Darrin), 15 and 13 respectively, who are placed in the care of their grandmother (Diana Marbury) after their mother dies and their father, Eddie (Russell Weisenbacher), becomes a traveling salesman. Stepping up as their caretaker and surrogate mother is their Aunt Bella (Rebecca Edana), characterized by her easily excited and naïve mannerisms reminiscent of a schoolgirl, and who is still standing in the shadow of her dominating mother.
Contrasting Aunt Bella is Uncle Louie (Edward Kassar), a “bag man” for the mob who is hiding from the gangster Hollywood Harry. He chooses to lay low in his childhood home, acting as a surrogate father and mentor to the boys, teaching them that to survive in the world and in a family, one must have “moxie.” Appearing in one of the show’s defining scenes is Aunt Gert (Catherine Maloney), the last of the boys’ colorful relatives, who suffers with an absurd speech impediment. Despite her brief appearance, Gert provides some of the show’s biggest laughs and signifies the lingering trauma their mother inflicted on her children.
“Lost in Yonkers” is a play that immediately grabs the audience, who share Jay and Arty’s experience—being exposed to a new environment and meeting their estranged extended family for the first time. This allows the play to juggle the comedy and the drama. The boys’ extended family is initially depicted as a colorful collective of personalities, bearing a near-cartoonish quality. Later, their quirks reveal the lasting effects and defense mechanisms of growing up with a cold and cruel mother.
The presence and motif of cinema and the escape it offers from the pain of the real world resides in the background of the play, providing a palatable fantasy through which the characters view life.
Jay and Arty, for example, initially compare living with Uncle Louie to being in a James Cagney film. This falsehood is exposed later in the play when, during a confrontation with Louie, the boys realize his tough, Bogart-esque moxie is an act, put on to survive his difficult mother.
Similarly, Bella develops an obsession with the movies, viewing them as a world where one can feel safe, and as a model for the perfect family she longs to create—one entirely divorced from her painful upbringing.
The two role models and stand-in parental figures for the boys, Rebecca Edana’s Aunt Bella and Edward Kassar’s Uncle Louie, steal the show. Both actors provide a large portion of the laughs while also demonstrating the two paths one can take—Bella’s compassion or Louie’s moxie—to survive a dysfunctional family.
Diana Marbury also provides an exemplary performance as Grandma Kurnitz, the source of the play’s drama. Together, Edana, Kassar and Marbury create an outstanding trifecta: the cold, domineering mother and her two grown children who continue struggling against her.
Under the direction of George A. Loizides, “Lost in Yonkers” presents a wonderful and emotional depiction of family and solidifies the play’s key theme of the importance of family in times of strife, and how these bonds shape our identities.
Raw Vulnerability Is Highlight Of “Lost In Yonkers”
By Lorraine Dusky (Southampton Press and East Hampton Press)
Can a heartrending performance let you ignore the meandering script that “Lost in Yonkers” actually is?
Rebecca Edana shows us how in Hampton Theatre Company’s production of the play in Quogue. As Bella, the spinster daughter whose childlike innocence is packed in a womanly body, she lifts Neil Simon’s dramedy from hodgepodge into poignant, rousing theater. Her artless naivety and tender vulnerability grabs the stage every moment she’s on it, and Ms. Edana is on it most of the two-plus hours the play runs. She is the show’s lodestar as well as the unquestionable star of the evening.
But I know, criticizing the much awarded play from someone who’s written more than two dozen modern comedies—“Lost in Yonkers” was his 27th work for Broadway—amounts to heresy.
Yet there were so many tedious scenes that go on way too long foretelling every bit of plot twist so that everyone in the audience knows what’s coming next before the characters do. Where’s the surprise?
Mr. Simon wrote a string of hits known to most theater and movie goers: “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple” and “Plaza Suite” among them. “Lost in Yonkers” is even considered his best-received work, and that’s why it was heaped with a Pulitzer, a Tony and a Drama Desk award.
Knowing all that, I couldn’t help feel that 1991—when “Lost in Yonkers” opened on Broadway—was the year that the critics decided to award Mr. Simon for his whole oeuvre the way the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars is given to someone who’s worthy but has been overlooked year after year when the acting awards are handed out. Many expected John Guare’s more critically lauded “Six Degrees of Separation” to snatch the Pulitzer in ’91.
However, the critics who count—those from The New York Times to be precise—were not enamored, and in fact, after their main theater reviewer, Frank Rich, eviscerated the play, a second was sent less than two weeks later. Since this is almost unheard of, I could imagine the explosive phone calls with vivid language that led to this repeat review. However, the second stringer didn’t like the play much more. Yet it ran for about two years on Broadway, and was adapted into a movie with some of the same actors.
“Lost in Yonkers,” set in 1942, centers on a bitter, elderly widow who runs her household above her sweet shop and soda fountain with an iron fist. As someone who escaped the Holocaust—but not without getting a crushed foot from a horse at a Nazi demonstration—Grandma has hardened herself into the archetype of the Bitch Matriarch. Her rapping cane is a constant reminder of her pain, and the misery she inflicts on everyone in her sightline.
Two young teenage boys, Grandma’s grandchildren, are unhappily deposited for most of a year at her house of gloom while their father goes on the road to make enough money to pay off his late wife’s hospital bills. Their dad, Eddie (Russell Weisenbacher)—a weeper or a sweater, we’re not sure which—is the least damaged of Grandma’s four children who made it to adulthood. The two who died along the way, as well as her husband, add a tad of sympathetic resonance to Grandma’s edict that no one should shed tears. Ever.
One of the Hampton Theatre Company’s mainstays, Diana Marbury radiates Grandma’s nasty revenge for her lot—one can’t even call it tough love because where’s the love? Arty, the youngest son at 13-and-a-half, remarks you could cut off Grandma’s braids and sell them for barbed wire. Grandma is generally seated sideways here, and unfortunately it was impossible to see her facial expressions.
Bella’s mental development stopped somewhere in adolescence and that has kept her at home with her loveless mother. Thus she is thrilled when the wise-cracking boys come to stay—at last, someone to talk to who isn’t Grandma! While both boys are on stage nearly the entire production—and the teen actors Jamie Baio and Christopher Darrin are well enough played—their characters are not so much a part of the action but wry observers as they anxiously wait to be rescued.
Bella’s mental deficit may be the result of birth, childhood illness—or being thwacked on the head by Grandma’s cane. Another son, Louie (Edward Kassar), is perhaps Grandma’s proudest achievement because he came through her stern upbringing and emerged as a tough guy—but in the process he made a left turn, disappointing her as he became a gangster.
Daughter Gert (Catherine Maloney) appears in the last scene and her only role is to be yet another example of collateral damage of Grandma’s mothering—if it could be called that—with a speech impediment that becomes a running gag, which by then seems wildly inappropriate.
These are severely damaged people just trying to make the best of their lives, and the laughs—even though infrequent—feel like stuffing to fill out the action because Grandma’s so relentlessly grim and nearly every plot point has been foreshadowed.
This is not the fault of director George A. Loizides; it’s in the writing. When Bella reveals the single surprising twist, it has the gimmicky feel of a playwright in search of a dramatic turning point.
While Louie and the boys provide side stories, the real action is leading to the obvious blowup between Bella and Grandma. In a bravura turn, Ms. Edana’s willful child-woman confronts her battle-axe of a mother and the bombs go off. Lines such as “Maybe I am still a child but there is enough woman in me to be miserable” and “I have to love somebody who loves me back” zero in on the chilling existence she has lived to date with her mother. Grandma might change, but never enough.
Costume designer Teresa Lebrun visually marks Bella’s development with her frequent costume change of period dresses, and the last one—all brightness and light in yellow and red—signifies her transformation. Set designer Peter-Tolin Baker’s called on several shades of brown in the single set of the apartment to convey the gloomy, but orderly, existence of its inhabitants.
The central problem of “Lost in Yonkers” is that Mr. Simon never decides whether he is going for the jugular and real dramatic intent à la Tennessee Williams, or simply reaching for the laughs he writes so well. In combining both, the play itself falls short. Yet Ms. Edana’s fiery anguish as she breaks away from her old, scared silly self makes us aware of how deeply a mother can wound. The cast got a standing ovation at the performance I attended. Everyone’s good, but Ms. Edana stands above them all.
“Lost in Yonkers” will run through April 17 at Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue. Showtimes are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors (excluding Saturdays) and $10 for students under 21. Call 866-811-4111.
“Lost in Yonkers” Neil Simon’s Best
By Kurt Wenzel (East Hampton Star)
There was a time in the 1970s when a New York theater critic began referring derisively to the playwright Neil Simon as “Simple Simon.” The reference was to Mr. Simon’s penchant for writing light, funny‚ and perhaps superficial plays such as “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park,” and “The Sunshine Boys.”
Then in the 1980s Mr. Simon began a series of autobiographical works known as the “B” plays: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Broadway Bound.” While they were still essentially comedic, these plays were also studded with moments of pain that alluded, directly or indirectly, to Mr. Simon’s difficult Depression-era childhood, and they began to earn the playwright the critical respect that had previously eluded him. This new cycle of works culminated in 1991 with “Lost in Yonkers,” which earned Mr. Simon the Pulitzer Prize. By this time “Simple Simon” had been long forgotten.
“Lost in Yonkers” is considered Neil Simon’s best work for good reason: It is a serious family drama that carries echoes of classics of the American stage, such as Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” while still displaying Mr. Simon’s unfailing gift for humor. A very solid and crowd-pleasing version of the play is currently running at the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue through Sunday.
The setting is Yonkers, N.Y., a short time after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eddie Kurnitz has just lost his wife to cancer and must leave home to sell scrap metal to the Army in order to pay for medical bills he has incurred during her hospital stay. The problem is what to do with his two teenage sons, Jay, 15, and Arty, 13. With nowhere left to turn, Eddie appeals to his mother for help.
Grandma Kurnitz, who survived persecution in Berlin before the war, doesn’t want the boys. She has her own hands full with her daughter, Bella, a daffy, child-like spinster who lives at home. Nevertheless, for the sake of family and dramatic effect, the boys end up at Grandma’s.
This is not, however, the jolly grandma of apple pie and card games. Played with steely bitterness by Diana Marbury (she also provided the convincing set decor), Grandma Kurnitz tries to turn her misery on anyone in her path (“Everybody in Yonkers is afraid of Grandma!” says Jay). And with the arrival of the mischievous boys, the playwright has a perfect set of foils, though this odd couple plays for higher dramatic stakes.
The performances are solid all around, especially the infectiously charming James Baio as Jay and Christopher Darrin as Arty. Edward Kassar has a nice turn as Louie, Eddie’s lovable tough-guy brother; he especially shines in the play’s climactic set piece where he is urged by Bella to sit down for her big announcement (she’s getting married), while at the same time watching out the window for the gangsters who are pursuing him.
But it is Bella who must carry the play, and Rebecca Edana is terrific in the role. Like Tom in “The Glass Menagerie,” Bella is a woman saddled with an infirm family member who has stunted her entry into the world, and Ms. Edana manages to bring heart-tugging empathy to the character. It’s a lot to ask of an actor to embody a character who’s both slow-witted and emotionally lucid — it’s what no less an actor than Tom Hanks managed to pull off in Forrest Gump. And when Ms. Edana delivers this play’s version of the “I know what love is” speech to Grandma Kurnitz, it leaves a mark.
The play is well directed by George A. Loizides, though there were times when the actors’ projection seemed a bit hushed (this could also be a kink in the theater’s acoustics). The crowd at the Hampton Theatre Company leans toward the senior circuit, and there were some rumblings at intermission regarding volume level.
All told, though, this is a highly enjoyable night of theatre. Mr. Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” may not quite stack up with the heavyweight family stage epics of Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, but its balance of humor and drama is deeply satisfying. This Hampton Theatre Company version does it justice.