Lost in Yonkers at Theatre J

A soft amber light is on the stage when you first walk into the small theatre. This combined with the comfortable-looking furniture immediately invites you into the room to have a closer look. The monochromatic palate seems a little somber upon closer inspection. Even the small glimpse of the New York City skyline is done in shades of brown. And yet,you still want to sink down on the couch with a Jane Austen novel and a cup of tea.
As always, artistic director Ari Roth makes a short speech before the show. The sold-out house is reminded that this is the first preview of this production. These actors have not yet had an audience, and the designers are still tweaking and perfecting. I was glad to have this information, as it would influence my view of the show.
When the lights come up, two boys are sitting on the couch, obviously nervous about something. These two, Jacob and Arty (Kyle Schliefer and Max Talisman, respectively) carry the next 20 minutes of the show, with only sporadic appearances by their father, Eddie (Kevin Bergen). After a while, their Aunt Bella (played to perfection by Holly Twyford) shows up. She has been described by the boys as not quite all there. Twyford moves from subject to subject and emotion to emotion like a hummingbird on speed, emulating the child that she mentally is. When Grandma finally comes onstage, after being talked about for the better part of the last 35 minutes, there is a full 30 seconds of silence onstage as she makes her way to her chair and settles herself. Every single eye, both in the audience and on the stage, was on Tana Hicken, who played the matriarch, making her painful way downstage. She is obviously feared.
Later, Uncle Louie shows up unexpectedly. Marcus Kyd makes this character a very typical New Yorker, complete with slicked-back hair and broad accent. He teaches the two boys some important lessons about respect and growing up strong. The last member of the family that has a part in the show is Aunt Gert, portrayed by Lisa Bruneau. They all congregate for a dinner when Bella has some important news which is not taken well. Twyford and Hicken draw on their past together (The Road to Mecca at Studio Theatre last season) and have an incredible rapport as mother and daughter.
Neil Simon's play was written in 1991 and takes place during World War II. While it could date itself because of the timeframe, the themes are still totally relevant to our lives today. It mainly deals with family and living with them, even when you don't like them very much. The characters are fleshed out not only by Simon's incredibly smart, witty script, but also the actors portraying them. Most of them have excellent business while they're onstage, and never take away from the actors who are speaking. Once they learn to hold for laughs, and get a little more comfortable in front of an audience, this will be a dynamite show.

Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon
Theatre J
1529 16th St, NW
October 21 - November 29, 2009

3.5 stars


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