Lost in Yonkers
Also see Lauren's review of Measure for Measure
Oftentimes, when we go to see a "coming-of-age" story, we go because we ourselves recognize the continual process of growth in our own lives. We know all too well the "growing pains" that leave us on the other side of the experience, either stronger or wiser, and maybe if we're lucky, both. We come to remind ourselves that, through the hard, confusing, and frustrating times we live in, we can become better individuals. "Coming-of-age" means, to me, personal triumph through self-actualization, and this is just what you get with Heather Lovick-Tolley's stage creation.
She paints a world in which Simon's knack for comedy within the context of hard drama exceeds expectations. I found myself, first and foremost, mesmerized by the set, which is peppered with intriguing detailsa true testament to the talent of the set designer, Bob Byers. Along with the realistic and creative costuming, by Judi Buehler, we are transmitted quite effortlessly into the age and times of the characters.
The play itself is set in the 1940s, during the times of the second world war, in Yonkers, New York. Of German-Jewish heritage, we see the troubles of the financially distressed Kurnitz family through the eyes of two young brothers, Jay and Arty (played by Nik Hoover and Vicente F. Vargas respectively). These two are the medium through which we see the dysfunctional family at its best and worst. Entrusted to the care of their elderly and notoriously ruthless grandmother, Jay and Arty must survive the twists and turns set upon them by their extended family: their two aunts, Bella and Gertrude, and their Uncle Louie. By the end, we see that the coming of age of the two brothers is reflected in every other character as well.
The characters of the story are both stereotypical and unique at the same time, portrayed cleverly on stage by talented actors/actresses. In Lovick-Tolley's own words, her apprehension toward directing a play by Neil Simon rested in his depiction of female characters. To her credit, the characters of Bella, played by Kamila Kasparian, and Grandma Kurnitz, acted by Ninette S. Mordaunt, prove to be the most compelling and strongest characters of the play. Both actresses are fully committed to their parts and I found myself entranced. Ninette plays a terrifying and hard woman so authentically that, by the end, we are willing to forgive all of her character's trespasses against the protagonists. She is able to draw out the sympathetic nature from the steel woman. Also profoundly impressive is her ability to keep the German accent throughout. Kasparian's performance, however, is by far my favorite. Aunt Bella is a mentally challenged, excitable but loving 35-year-old woman who struggles with being a child in a woman's body. Kasparian is uplifting in her portrayal of the vulnerable Bella. Her scenes enthralled and moved me. She perhaps is the most comedic and dramatic character of the play and she is a delight every time she is on stage.
The father character, Eddie, played by Vernon Poitras, is sympathetic throughout and is a great depiction of personal growth. Ned Record, who plays Uncle Louie, is the exact kind of person you would want to play the rough talking, criminal type character. His character is believable and entertaining. Teresa Longo, playing Aunt Gertrude, is mostly absent from the play, but her presence in any scene is a welcome one, and the character's breathing problem is a welcome comedic relief. It is somewhat regrettable that the boys, the main protagonists, have a tendency of falling into the shadows of the more experienced actors. Some of the lines read stale, resulting in what comes across as uncommitted and disengaged performances. The young actors are not without talent, however, as there are plenty of scenes that are well acted.
Recommending this show comes quite easily, as the show as a whole is a success. I, myself, would see it a second time just for the performances by Kasparian and Mordaunt.
Lost in Yonkers plays through July 21 at the Adobe Theater located at 9813 4th St. NW. You can buy tickets of find out more about Adobe at their website: www.adobetheater.org.