Though cut from some of the same cloth as his "Eugene" trilogy, Lost in Yonkers is a different animal all together from playwright Neil Simon. There are laughs to be found for sure, but the overwhelming sense that pervades this particular work is that of the dramatic. There are similarities as well, what with this being a coming-of-age tale, too. But, Simon works these characters differently, even confessing in one of his memoirs that he isn't sure where they all came from. The current presentation by The New Jewish Theatre is a thoughtful and nicely performed rendering.
Eddie Kurnitz is a traveling salesman who's forced to leave his two sons, Jay and Arty with his mother so he can pay off the debts incurred after the death of his wife. Grandma Kurnitz is a kind of stern and unyielding character who inspires much more fear in her charges than any love or admiration. Along with the mentally challenged Bella, they do their best not to bring forth their Grandmother's wrath, but sometimes it's just unavoidable, and Jay is a bit of a rapscallion, so there are always prices to pay for his tomfoolery. Bella, an adult beaten down by her mother, wants only to live her own life, but Grandma will have none of that. Her sister Gert can barely breathe in her presence, and when Eddie makes a visit, he finds himself a nervous wreck around her as well.
Nancy Lewis gives a powerful and memorable performance as Grandma Kurnitz. She does indeed have feelings, but keeps them rigidly restrained. Kelley Webber does nice work as Bella, and you root for her to make a life with her boyfriend, even though it seems highly unlikely. Robert Love is good as the mischievous Jay, constantly getting himself into one situation or the other. And, Leo B. Ramsey also does fine work as his little brother Arty. Gary Glasgow tries to impress upon the boys to make the best of the situation as their father Eddie, and Michael Scott Rash makes a vivid impression as their Uncle Louie, a small-time hood. Sigrid Sutter is properly repressed as Gert.
Director Doug Finlayson always does fine work with small ensembles, and this play is no exception. He's aided by Justin Barisonek's perfectly suitable scenic design and Michele Friedman Siler's period costumes. Propmeister Meg Brinkley once again provides the accoutrements that make the era come to life, and Michael Sullivan lights the action in bright and dramatic fashion as called for by the script.
The New Jewish Theatre's production on Lost in Yonkers is nicely mounted and well acted, and decidedly worth your time and attention. It continues through October 21, 2012.