Neil Simon’s Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning “Lost in Yonkers” mixes humor and pathos in a nostalgic look at a very damaged German-Jewish family struggling with themselves and each other in the summer of 1942.
This is one of the best of Simon’s prolific, autobiographical plays, which run from the sublime to the ridiculous. (I refuse to see another production of “The Odd Couple”). Director Mark Peckham has taken the play and given it a heart, referring it to “a good play for the Christmas season.”
While the center of the family, a crotchety, mean-spirited grandmother who has raised a family of emotionally troubled children, doesn’t find redemption like Scrooge does and will never change her ways, there is hope for better relationships in the touching conclusion to this emotional roller coaster of a story.
The play opens after the death of Eddie’s wife. Her medical bills have depleted his bank account and he must travel the country selling scrap metal for the war efforts in order to pay off a huge debt. He has no other choice than to leave his young sons, Arty and Jay (Matthew Pirraglia and Andrew Iacovelli), with a grandmother who wants nothing to do with them.
Grandma isn’t the only problem. Her daughter Bella (Hillary Parker) is a 35-year-old child. Her other daughter, Aunt Gert (Tray Gearing), has an unusual speech problem. And her son, Uncle Louie (Ara Boghigian), is a smalltime hood on the run. Put them all together in one room and stand back…way back.
Peckham has kept the two-act, hour and 45-minute play moving at a fast pace. The two boys try hard to stay out of Grandma’s way and survive the 10 months until their father returns, resulting in some hilarious moments.
But Simon didn’t just write a play to make people laugh. He successfully showed how a domineering mother could seriously damage her children, even if all she wanted to do was make them tougher.
Paula Faber, whose comedic side we have seen in many plays, is magnificent as Grandma, never letting down her guard, maintaining control of every situation and making it tough for her family, and the audience, to like her. Whenever she enters the room, our focus turns to her to see what she will say and do. She is in complete control of not only the family but the play as well.
Hillary Parker has the difficult challenge of making Bella a child in a woman’s body without coming across as a caricature. As much as we dislike (and yes, feel sorry for) Grandma, we love (and feel sorry for) Bella. The final scene between the two may require a tissue for some.
At times, Simon’s humor seems a bit corny and dated, but the cast has reached deep to understand their characters and make them sympathetic. There are some funny scenes between Uncle Louie and the two boys that break up some of the tension.
Bella springs a secret at her planned family meeting that changes the dynamics of the family, bringing out the theme of the need to be loved and touched. If you want to see Simon, and 2nd Story, at their best, fit “Lost in Yonkers” into your schedule this holiday season.
“Lost in Yonkers” is at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St. in the center of Warren, through Dec. 16. Tickets are $25, $20 for age 21 and under. Call 247-4200 or go online at firstname.lastname@example.org to order tickets.