The production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, at Hartford Stage through May 1, is probably the best play of the Connecticut theater season. The Tony and Pulitzer prize winning show was written towards the end of the playwright’s 40 year career in the theater. The play is more poignant, stirring, and emotionally layered than his earlier all-out comedic works such as Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. There are the hallmark laugh-out-loud moments found in any Neil Simon show, but they are deftly structured within the overall constructs of the play.
The multi-generational saga revolves around the home of family matriarch, Grandma Kurnitz, played with an iron-willed feistiness by Marsha Mason, during the time of WWII. Her son, Eddie (Jeff Skowron), needs to leave his two young sons, Arty (Gabriel Amoroso) and Jay (Hayden Bercy), to be cared for by his mother so he can travel the country to earn an income. Resisting at first, she finally agrees, much to the great displeasure of the boys, to mind her grandsons during their father’s months long sojourn. Adding to the picture are the kid’s Aunt Bella, (Andrea Syglowski), a somewhat simple-minded woman who lives with her mother; the slick and mysterious Uncle Louie (Michael Nathanson), who suddenly appears for an extended visit; and Aunt Gert (Liba Vaynberg), vocally challenged and living on her own.
The character’s lives during the show’s time frame are full of comedic episodes, angry outbursts, and heartfelt moments. Family is family, no matter what the circumstances. Neil Simon teases out this notion to create a show rich in characterizations
Marsha Mason heads a strong cast. The actress, walking with a pronounced limb and clipped German accent, enters scenes with a commanding presence that sets fear and trepidation among her extended family. With little dialog and time on stage she, nonetheless, leaves an indelible impression..
The other adult performers bring a richness and fullness to their characters, quirks, foibles and all. You end up caring for each of them and hope they succeed in bettering their lives. Andrea Syglowski beautifully portrays Bella, giving her the exuberance of a little girl with undertones of a woman marginalized all her adult life. Michael Nathanson imparts the role of Uncle Louie with a shifty slickness and worldly manner that belies his need for acceptance. Jeff Skowron’s Eddie convincingly portrays a loving father who sacrifices family and personal health for the betterment of his sons. In the small role of Aunt Gert, Liba Vaynberg is absolutely hysterical.
The two young boys, Gabriel Amoroso (Arty) and Hayden Bercy (Jay), hold their own with their more experienced cast members. They know how to set-up jokes and humorous situations. The two also show pathos and empathy when called upon.
Directors Marsha Mason and Rachel Alderman winningly bring Neil Simon’s classic work to life, giving the production a freshness and realism that will strike true to audience members. They skillfully move from comedic highs to touching and impassioned moments. Lost in Yonkers is not a full-throttled show. Patience and pacing are critically important and the two woman superbly guide the show to this end.
Scenic Designer Lauren Helpern’s one set piece lovingly creates the interior of a 1940’s apartment sitting room. An-lin Dauber’s Costume Designs are faithful to the period and add to the authenticity of the play.
Lost in Yonkers, a show not to miss, at Hartford Stage through May 1.