“Lost in Yonkers”
Hartford Stage is currently presenting a wonderful production of Neil Simon’s 1991 play, “Lost in Yonkers.” Taking place during World War II, “Lost in Yonkers” at Hartford Stage truly feels like a glimpse into another era. This revival is co-directed by Rachel Alderman and Marsha Mason, the latter who also plays a part in the show. These directors seem to get everything right from beginning to end, including a splendid cast and an excellent design team. “Lost in Yonkers” was one of the very first shows I ever saw on Broadway and it is high praise to say that Hartford Stage’s revival of “Lost in Yonkers” is deeply satisfying and funny and does full justice to this work. How fortunate it is to rediscover this play all over again.
Without the right cast, “Lost in Yonkers” would never begin to work so well and it’s great to be able to say that this company of actors is topnotch. The premise of the play is that Eddie (the fine Jeff Skowron), a widower and the father of two boys, owes a great deal of money to loan sharks and the only way he can work to pay the money back is to become a traveling salesman. The problem is where his sons, Arty and Jay (portrayed terrifically by Gabriel Amoroso and Hayden Bercy, respectively), are going to stay while Eddie is on the road. The answer turns out to be, for better or worse, with his mother, Grandma Kurnitz, strikingly and convincingly played by Marsha Mason. Grandma Kurnitz is a tough and steely kind of person and one can see during the play exactly how her lack of warmth has affected her family.
Also living in Grandma Kurnitz’s house is Eddie’s sister Bella, a sweet but childlike woman. Mercedes Ruehl originally played this part on Broadway and her performance was so indelible that it is almost hard to imagine another actress being as good in the role. Hartford Stage is, thus, blessed to have Andrea Syglowski as Bella and, while her portrayal, at times, is reminiscent of her predecessor’s, Syglowski manages to fully claim the part as her own. This actress is both heartbreaking and so lovely, especially in her interactions with the two boys, and one roots for her character to succeed against a very hard obstacle, namely Grandma Kurnitz.
Marsha Mason turns out to be a revelation as Grandma Kurnitz. This actress’ innate likability and humor are firmly hidden under the weight of her character. Wearing the ideal costume of a well-worn dress, expertly designed by An-Lin Dauber, Mason is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Life has turned Grandma Kurnitz very cold and unfeeling and this character casts a harsh shadow upon her family. That said, the rare moments where her defenses break down are almost heart stopping. It is a credit to say that this actress is so good in the part that one completely forgets it is Marsha Mason onstage.
Also in the show is Uncle Louis, the brash Michael Nathanson, who is connected with the mob, and Aunt Gert, played by Liba Vaynberg. Nathanson is fantastic in his part and he brings a great deal of lightness to the show, especially when he displays what “moxie” is to the boys. As for Aunt Gert, one of the chief characteristics of Gert is that she is able to say, out loud, the beginning of a sentence before she then has to suck the second half of the sentence back in. The scenes with Gert in the original Broadway production got a lot of laughs. Here, Vaynberg brings more of the sorrow out of her character, that she has to talk the way she does, and, while not quite as humorous, this actress, like her costars, certainly makes her mark in the show.
The set of Grandma Kurnitz’s house is beautifully designed by Lauren Helpern and the entire production is evocatively lit by lighting designer Aja M. Jackson. The co-directors, Rachel Alderman and Marsha Mason, do a sterling job of presenting this play and the songs heard during the show bring the era of World War II directly to the forefront. I hasten to mention that, while there is sadness in “Lost in Yonkers,” the play is often extremely funny and richly entertaining. “Lost in Yonkers” at Hartford Stage is indeed a handsome and enjoyable show and is, thus, most highly recommended.
“Lost in Yonkers” runs through May 1, 2022, at Hartford Stage, in Hartford, CT. For information and tickets, please visit http://www.hartfordstage.org.
Photo: (L-R): Gabriel Amoroso, Andrea Syglowski, and Hayden Bercy.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.