Lost in Yonkers
Lost in Yonkers is now playing in the Drury Theatre of the Cleveland Play House and continues through January 31. This is a three-way co-production with The Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, Florida, and New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse. This production was directed by Michael Bloom, artistic director of The Cleveland Play House. In the wings, Ain't Misbehavin' will work its way through the same triathlon, opening in Cleveland, January 29 and continuing through February 21.
This shared-production style is becoming more and more popular in this country. The advantage is the performers, in this example, will have months in rehearsal, performance and pay. Current thinking is the longer runs (or involvements) enable production companies to attract better-known performers.
Lost in Yonkers has been Neil Simon's most distinguished script, receiving the 1991 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. Set in 1942-42, the story deals with two young brothers, Arty (Maxwell Beer) and Eddie (John Plumpis). After the death of their mother, their father Jay (Alex Wyse) goes on the road as a salesman in order to pay off the medical bills his wife generated before her death. As a last resort, Jay leaves his sons with his mother, Grandma (Rosemary Prinz). Grandma shares her home with Bella (Sara Surrey), her mentally challenged daughter who may be falling in love with a middle-aged usher at the local movie theater.
The boys are terrified of the grandmother. Once their father is on the road, he reports back in cards and letters about his heart condition. They are justifiably concerned about his health and what this may mean to their living with the grandmother.
Life in this strange dysfunctional home becomes more complicated when Uncle Louie (Anthony Crane) comes to visit (or perhaps hide out). Another of Grandma's children, he may have mob connections. He carries a pistol, a satchel filled with mystery (no one may open the satchel but Louie) and plenty of money.
Although the boys stay with their grandmother only about nine months, their lives are challenged and changed. Grandma is difficult. But her problems may stem from being beaten by the German military officers and her escape from Germany. Yet, she is cruel to the members of her family and seems to take delight in intimidating everyone who comes in contact with her. Unfortunately, the playwright doesn't provide more than veiled suggestions (things that happened in Germany) as a motivation for her cruelty. Yet, her cruelty provides part of the foundation for some of the comedy in this script.
The quality of the directing and acting are excellent. Michael Bloom keeps a World War II atmosphere permeating the production. The actors range in age from teenager to Prinz, who celebrated her 80th birthday while in Cleveland. Age doesn't seem to make a difference in the quality of the acting. The young men in the cast hold their own with their more experienced cast mates. However, Anthony Crane raises the testosterone level to the exploding point as a bully, mean-spirited uncle. Crane's energy level makes his scenes truly exciting.
Lost in Yonkers should not be missed. This is the best play produced by one of the most prolific playwrights of our time. The fact that the play may be, in part, autobiographic doesn't matter. It has a strong, interesting and entertaining script. The cast and director are at the top of their game.
Lost in Yonkers runs through January 31 at the Drury Theatre, Cleveland Play House. For ticket information telephone 216-795-7000 x 4 or check clevelandplayhouse.com.
The Cleveland Play House continues its impressive season with Ain't Misbehavin' (January 29 - February 21), Jane Austin's Emma (February 26 - March 21) and Bill W. and Dr. Bob (April 9 - May 2).
The Drury Theatre
- David Ritchey