by Lynn on June 7, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Jim Warren. Set by Sue LePage. Costumes by Lori Hickling. Lighting by Lesley Wilkinson. Sound by Adam Harendorf. Starring: Ari Cohen, Alessandro Costantini, David Eisner, Sheila McCarthy, Marion Ross, Jesse Shimko and Finnerty Steeves.

Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. Plays at the Jane Mallett Theatre until June 10.

Lost in Yonkers is Neil Simon’s comedy of family dynamics in which a stern woman has affected her children, mostly adversely, and now sets her sights on her grandsons. Grandma Kurnitz is the woman in question. She was born in Germany and had to flee when the Nazis came to power. Her foot was crushed in an accident, never treated properly and she walks with a limp. She has experienced the death of a child and her husband. Life has hardened her and the result is one miserable woman. Her four remaining children have issues with her. Louis is wary; Eddie is timid and fearful; Bella is developmentally challenged but feisty; and Gert is so traumatised she can’t speak clearly.

Timid Eddie has to convince his mother (Grandma Kurnitz) to take in his two teenaged sons, Jay and Arty, while he goes on the road for nine months working to pay off a loan to a loan shark. It’s not easy. She doesn’t want her ordered life disturbed. But she relents. She works her grandsons hard. The two boys angle to get out of work, avoid Grandma’s hard gaze at all cost, and get into quiet mischief. Louis sneaks home to avoid two hoods who are after him. Louis’s associates are questionable. Bella hopes to marry an usher she just met at her local cinema. Gert just tries to catch her breath.

It’s vintage Simon, but a bit tired in this day and age. He’s written better, deeper plays that are funnier. It’s a pleasant enough evening in the theatre. Director Jim Warren does a workman-like job realizing the play and guiding his actors. The star of the show, as Grandma, is Marion Ross of Happy Days fame. She does assume the brittleness of Grandma, but I couldn’t help but think that she was trying to soften her a bit and not make her seem so miserable. Grandma is miserable. Trying to suggest the limp from the damaged foot and co-ordinating the use of Grandma’s cane is a bit awkward. As Louis, Ari Cohen is slick, confident and a real operator. As Gert, who talks even when she’s gasping for air, Sheila McCarthy does what she can with that thankless role. Because of a tragic death in her family, Linda Kash who played Bella, had to leave the production (she will be back for the final two performances). Finnerty Steeves stepped in to save the day. We can see how Bella is a little ‘off’ in this lively, upbeat performance. Bella knows her limitations and she also has the strength to stand up to her mother. It was a lovely performance.

The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company has produced some interesting, weighty productions over the last five years, and some rather lightweight fare. I’m afraid I would put Lost In Yonkers in that latter category. Next year they have announced The Whipping Man—a fascinating play—and Falsettos, a dandy musical. I hope this bodes well for good theatre from the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.

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