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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Heartwarming, Humorous Lost in Yonkers
at Village Theatre

Lost In Yonkers
Collin Morris, Nick Robinson and
Jennifer Lee Taylor

Written during Neil Simon's golden period, just after his Brighton Beach Memoirs/Biloxi Blues/Broadway Bound trilogy, Lost in Yonkers is a play I fondly recall from its stellar, Tony award winning Broadway production, and had not seen onstage since. Directed by Brian Yorkey (last season's Tony winning lyricist for Next to Normal), the current Village Theatre production does the play proud, and the serio-comic tale holds up well, even if the script now seem about fifteen minutes too long.

The play takes place in the 1940s when two young brothers, Artie and Jay Kurnitz, come to live with their widowed father Eddie's family whom they scarcely know, while their Eddie goes on the road to earn money to repay medical bills accrued during his late wife's illness. Grandma Kurnitz, who owns and runs a candy shoppe/soda fountain, is a stern German immigrant. She has been embittered since the early passing of two of her own children, and it is only at the insistence of her warm but "slow" daughter Bella that the boys are allowed to stay. The two youngsters get quite an education in family dynamics during the months that follow, with added experiences coming from the arrival of their gangster Uncle Louie and becoming reacquainted with their sickly Aunt Gert. The scenes of their life in Yonkers are punctuated with appearances by their travelling father, writing letters home. The play examines with equal doses of pathos and humor the changes in the boys, Aunt Bella, and even Grandma during their stay.

Yorkey directs the play with delicacy and an assured hand. He elicits fine performances from an ideally chosen cast that functions beautifully as a true ensemble. Suzy Hunt is a force of nature as Grandma, capable of putting the fear of god into her young grandsons. Hunt instills Grandma with a touch of humor here and compassion there, and earns our sympathy, even at her most severe. Jennifer Lee Taylor never makes a cliché out of the role of Bella, and is as successful earning the character's laughs as showing he growth and inner strength in her ultimate confrontation with Hunt's Grandma. As the boys, teen actors Collin Morris as Jay and Nick Robinson as younger brother Artie play off each other with ease. Morris is touching in the straight man role, most affecting in his scene trying to get his gangster Uncle to let him run away from Yonkers with him. Robinson is simply a guileless, effortless scene-stealer, with a sense of comic timing and delivery that would make most actors twice his age green with envy. He is one young Seattle actor to watch for. Bradford Farwell is immensely touching as the soft-hearted Eddie, and plays his own big scene facing off with Grandma with power and grace. Mike Dooly is humorous but never caricatured as the boys' Uncle Louie, and Karen Skrinde tickles amidst her character's wheezing bouts as Aunt Gert.

Bill Forrester's scenic design is a successful and detailed evocation of the main family living space, with fragments of the soda shoppe and other outdoor elements looming in the distance; and Tom Sturge's lighting design is appropriately muted and natural. Melanie Burgess' costume designs are perfectly in sync with the period. Gino Scarpino's sound design includes a marvelous recurring effect for Grandma's door closing (it sounds like the door of a dungeon) and it is used to hilarious effect for Bella's door closing after she has won a battle with Grandma.

Every season, Village Theatre programs a single straight play, in the hopes it will appeal to an audience largely used to attending musicals. Lost in Yonkers is not only a good fit, but a fine effort as well.

Lost in Yonkers plays at the Village Theatre in Issaquah through February 28th and then moves to play at the Everett Performing Arts Center March 5th through March 28th. For tickets or information, contact the Village box offices at 425-395-2202 (Issaquah) or 425-257-8600 (Everett) or online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh/Village Theatre

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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