Lost in Yonkers, by Neil Simon, now playing at Prince George’s Little Theatre, is a dramedy. Director Ken Kienas and Producer Malia Murray offer up a rich character study about family dynamics.
Brothers, Arty (Andrew Sharpe) and Jay (Jeremy Crawford) have just laid their mother to rest, along with their father Eddie (Steve Feder). They now gather at the home of their grandmother. Because of the medical debt, their father must go on the road to earn a large sum of money in a short period of time. This leaves these two boys with their strict grandmother, kind-hearted Aunt Bella, and their delinquent Uncle Louie.
Jay and Arty are very precocious young teens who eventually stand up to mean, old grandma. At times these two brothers are very clever and yet somewhat dim-witted at times. Sharpe and Crawford play off each other very well with their quick wit and sassiness. Both of these young men have bright acting careers ahead of them.
Grandma Kurnitz, brilliantly played by Leah Mazade, is the catalyst that has created these ill-willed relationships within her own family. Wretched with anger, she is incapable of championing for her adult children. She has aged with a bitterness that runs deep and Mazade shows that in her rigid mobility. Mazade demonstrates her physical pain with slow movement, a hunched back, and a terse face. Grandma is loathsome character and Mazade’s performance exemplifies these qualities.
Bella (Mary Rogers), grandma’s daughter, has a high exuberance for life She is deemed mentally challenged and yet she appears to be the smart one in the family. Roger’s gives Bella bounce in her step and joy in her voice. Her poignant moment is when she tells her mother, “So what if I live life as a kid; why can’t I just be happy as a kid?” This is the moment she stands up for herself as she tightly wrings her hands around her clothing especially her red cardigan sweater, that demonstrates her nervousness. Rogers is outstanding and Bella is an adorable character.
Feder slouches, and walks and talks at a slower pace than the rest of the characters. Unfortunately, Eddie’s (Steve Feder) mother considers him to be weak. But faced with the death of this wife, high debt, and having to leave his boys, he still manages to step up to the plate. Feder brings out the gentle side in this character who speaks in soft tones and is a practical character. Eddie is a likable character and one can’t help but empathize with his current tragedy.
Opposite Eddie, is his brother/Uncle Louie (Brian Binney) who has made some bad choices and is the bad apple of the family. Known as the ‘Henchman,’ he is in debt to some gangsters. Additionally, he is crass with his jokes, sloppy with his clothes, and extremely inpatient with his sisters, Bella and Gert. He infiltrates his family’s lives but is also a lone wolf as he keeps an emotional and even physical distant
Uncle Louie does not confide in the family but when he talks and even yells, it is with a terse tongue. It seems that he loves his family enough to not let them be involved in his financial entanglements. Binney’s got this character down. One wants to hate him but he does have redeemable qualities. Most impressive is his honesty with his nephews.
Gert (Jeanne Louise), another adult sibling, is a complete Nervous Nellie around her mother (grandma). When Gert speaks, halfway through the conversation, she gasps for air. At first, it is humorous like someone having the hiccups but as the scene progresses, feelings for this character shift to empathy. Still, Louise shows great talent as she masters Gert’s quirks. Like her sister Bella, she wrings her hands together with such strength and yet her mother thinks she too is weak. Gert is smart though, as she opts NOT to live with her mother.
The set construction and design by Dan Lavanga, and set decoration and painting by Roy Peterson, provide a historically traditional home of the 1940s. The living room sofa is a sofa-bed dressed with pillows and lace dollies. There are two Rosewood Balloon back-chairs with a console table and a fan. Additionally, a vintage radio sits on a table by the hallway – which is a nice historical touch.
Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde gave indication of both the time of year and day by the brightness of the day and the dark of the night. Gobo (cutouts) cast shadows in the house like a fully leafed tree outside the window. Sound Designer Eric Small, provides big band tunes of the era for pre-show, in between scenes, and after-show.
Jeane Binney lent her expertise to the costumes that matches the character’s persona. Bella wears brightly colored dresses and sweaters, Gert dons a burnt orange dress, while grandma likes her dark navy. The men wear more muted colors in shades of tan, army green and dark maroon.
Family – you can’t live with them and you can’t choose them either. That seems to be the case with the Kurnitz family that is facing several tragic situations. However, this family does show up for each other. It may involve yelling and some tears, but they DO show up. And in the end, that’s all one can do.
Prince George’s Little Theatre’s Lost in Yonkers is an emotional family memory play filled with many funny Neil Simon one-liners and fine performances. Don’t miss it.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Lost in Yonkers plays through August 27, 2016 at Prince George’s Little Theatre performing at the Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, Maryland. For tickets, call (301) 937-7458, buy them at the box office, or purchase them online.