Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Lost in Yonkers
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's reviews of Next to Normal and Choir Boy

Andrea Syglowski, Marsha Mason, Michael Nathanson,
and Liba Vaynberg

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers, at Hartford Stage through May 1, is a gently humorous and endearing drama performed with aplomb by seven actors whose ages widely vary. Anyone entering the theater who has stereotyped Simon as skillful yet light and fluffy will be delighted to enjoy a work multi-layered and telling. This is a versatile playwright at his height, a man who is able to infuse witty repartee with thought.

The play is a period piece and Lauren Helpern's set choices visually evoke 1942. The interior of what appears to be a Victorian home shows wooden flooring as well as door frames and tables in darker hues. Outside, there's a nifty lit sign hanging down which announces Kurnitz Kandies. Grandma Kurnitz (Marsha Mason) and others have run the store, which has existed for years. Visiting her are brothers Arty (Gabriel Amoroso) and Jay (Hayden Bercy), her teenage grandsons who have recently lost their mother. The boys' father Eddie (Jeff Skowron) drops off the kids since he must travel the country selling goods to pay for his late wife's medical expenses. Bella (Andrea Syglowski) still resides in the home with her mother. She is the 35-year-old aunt of Jay and Eddie and a woman who very much wants a life and children of her own. Later, Bella's brother Louie (Michael Nathanson) comes on the scene to get some distance from his associates–proverbial bad guys. Louie has pilfered something which he has stowed in a closed black bag. Rounding out the cast but not appearing until the second act is Gert (Lisa Vaynberg), another of Grandma's daughters who seems savvy but has a singular breathing/speech idiosyncrasy which is an absolute hoot and a half.

Marsha Mason (deservedly applauded for starring in films such as The Goodbye Girl and Chapter Two) co-directs this production with Rachel Alderman. Mason, the performer, is precise as the aging yet vital grandmother who grew up in Germany and whose presence is austere and intimidating. Grandma Kurnitz suffered a severe foot injury when she was a girl and now leans on a cane. Grandma is pivotal, a fulcrum for the play. The attention-getter, however, is Bella, a complex individual who is loving and anxiety-ridden but shows potential. A radiant soul, one roots for her and hopes she achieves some happiness. Louie displays a tough gangster-type outer demeanor but shows a softer side, too, which manifests as he cares for his nephews.

This play is very much dependent upon verbal delivery, timing, and mastery of accents. Here's a shout-out to dialect coach Patrick Mulryan who helped cast members nail their accents. In this regard, the performers are spot-on.

The arc of the production begins when Arty and Jay are on stage by themselves. They begin to grasp their situation, one which will oblige them to make the best of it with their grandmother. Their dad is about to hit the road for fiscal purposes and his sons haven't any choice. It's difficult, though, to make out exactly what the youthful guys are first saying since they speak too quickly and without sufficient projection. This would be fine in an actual living room but not on the stage, since there's a great distance the dialogue must travel to get to the theater patrons. As the production unfolds, the actors are fully audible with their voices carrying. Someone needs to coax them into speaking out from the get-go.

Lost in Yonkers is quite humorous during its first hour when it is immediately clear that Simon is a comic wordsmith. The second act, complete with greater tension, feeling, implications and ramifications, demonstrates the author's depth as a dextrous dramatist. He brings the story full circle as it concludes. This is deliberate and exact: Eddie, the dad, is back and his sons have suitcases packed for a return to a prior home.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1991, Lost in Yonkers is affecting and sympathetic. As it examines family dynamics, it is thematically universal and its truths translate well to various eras. The script, through lighter and sadder beats, remains thankfully fresh.

Lost in Yonkers runs through May 1, 2022, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 860-527-5151 or visit