By Neil Simon
Directed by Devon de Mayo
At Northlight Theatre, Skokie
“You got moxie, kid.” -Louis from Lost in Yonkers
Flawless production of Neil Simon’s Lost In Yonkers pulls at the heartstrings
Rarely do I see a flawless production of a play but Northlight Theatre, under the tight direction by Devon de Mayo, has accomplished just that. Using Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize Lost In Yonkers (Simon’s masterwork) with an impressive set (design by Grant Sabin) evoking a 40’s candy store with a cast that combined a strong cast of “A” list Equity actors with two talented seventeen year-old players, Northlight Theatre honors Neil Simon with a fabulous production that has loads of heart with humor and truth. This is the finest production that I have ever seen of Lost In Yonkers (and I have seen many productions of this worthy piece).
Simon’s 1990 nostalgic memory play is a drama with humor that takes us back to the summer of 1942 as WWII rages on. Eddie (Timothy Edward Kane) is broke and he must leave his two sons with his estranged mother since he must travel to sell scrap iron to pay off his debts.
The play is told from the point of view of the teens, Arty (Sebastian W. Weigman) age 13 1/2 and Jay (Allistair Sewell), aged 15 1/2 who are terrified by the prospect of living with the nasty, stern old grandmother from hell. As with many characters, Neil Simon has his on-stage characters vividly, in detail describe those characters who we’ll soon meet. This anticipation both produces humor as well as emotional high expectations that, indeed, do pay off. Once we meet Grandma (a powerful performance by Ann Whitney), we already know her.
But, it is the sweet but mentally challenged Aunt Bella (Linsey Page Morton) that steals out hearts. Morton was outstanding here as she combines that child-like innocence with a touch determination to get her share of life’s happiness despite Grandma controlling.
It takes Bella’s insistence to get Grandma to take in the boys while Eddie works to pay off his debts. We see the stern Grandma as one who seems to know what everyone does and thinks as she strives to teach life’s lessons by making her family tough enough to survive in a cruel world as she had to.She is a complex woman with shades of gray but one who appreciates honest and chutzpah. Her manner leads to much of the works humor as the boys recall her.
When Uncle Louie (Erik Hellman), a lowly local gun-toting gangster, shares his toughness and worldly wisdom with the boys. Hellman shows his comic chops here nicely. He bounds with the boys as he gives them insights into Grandma’s controlling tactics since he survived those as he learned to stand up to her intimidation.
Much of Lost In Yonkers tells of Aunt Bella’s struggle both with her thoughts, her battles with Grandma, and her determination to live her life with the pleasures of being a woman despite her mental challenges. We empathize with her as she struggles. The boys help her to emerge as an independent person.
Having to carry many scenes, the two seventeen year old boys, Sewell and Weigman did fine work with Sewell’s Jay deftly standing up to Louis and Grandma. These talented teens smoothly and quite skillfully played the terrified kids. These Wisconsin residents are a welcome additions to the Chicago theatre scenes.
Lost In Yonkers, perhaps the finest family play ever, uses humor and richly developed characters to demonstrate the power of family especially as it becomes a survival place for all to learn to become tough enough to survive. Coming of age as an independent person covers more than just the boys. This heartfelt, humorous, nostalgic drama captures us from the start and keeps us engaged throughout. I have not felt as fulfilled and satisfied as I did upon seeing this triumphant production. Kudos to Northlight Theatre for tackling Simon’s masterwork – and – delivering such a wonderful production. Lost In Yonkers is among the finest players seen this year! Don’t miss it.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 9, 2104
For more info checkout the Lost In Yonkers page at theatreinchicago.com
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd, skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.nothlight.org, tickets $25 – $75, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through June 8, 2014