Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lost In Yonkers

Neil Simon’s LOST IN YONKERS’ is a find at CPH

Neil Simon is the crown prince of theatrical comedy. His plays are generally delightful. Some of his works, including ‘LOST IN YONKERS,’ which is now being staged at the Cleveland Play House, also serve as message scripts. This added element makes ‘LOST IN YONKERS’ a multi-dimensional winner.

In 1966, Simon became a Broadway superstar when he had four shows running at the same time: ‘SWEET CHARITY,’ ‘THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL,’ ‘THE ODD COUPLE,’ and ‘BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.’.

‘LOST IN YONKERS’, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1991, was also the recipient of that year’s Tony Award for best play. It focuses on Arty and Jay, teenage brothers who are left in Yonkers, New York, in the care of their stern, Germanic Grandma Kurnitz and their Aunt Bella, a woman-child. Their father, Eddie, has to abandon the boys as he needs to become a traveling salesman in order to pay off debts incurred during the illness of his now deceased wife. Grandma, who is herself a mental and physical invalid as a result of a horrific childhood and miserable adulthood, has damaged each of her children, to varying degrees. Will she succeed in ruining her grandsons?

The Broadway production ran 780 performances with a cast that included Irene Worth as Grandma, Mercedes Ruehl as Bella, and Kevin Spacey as Louie, the gangster son.

The Play House presentation is co-produced with Florida’s Maltz Jupiter Theatre and Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. By tripling up, the theatres save money on conceiving individual shows and the actors get a long run. It’s a device more and more theatres will be using in these times of economic problems.

CPH’s Michael Bloom, who directed all three stagings, has done a nice job of pacing the action. The casts hits almost all the laugh lines right on. The pathos is not short changed, allowing the audience to experience a full gamut of emotions.

Rosemary Prinz, who is probably best known as Penny Hughes on television’s As the World Turns, is no newcomer to the legitimate stage. She made her Broadway debut in 1952 and has appeared in such shows as ‘CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF,’ ‘MASTER CLASS,’ ‘MAME,’ and ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.’ She is nothing short of perfection as the stern grandmother whose hair, according to Arty, “could be sold as barbed wire.”

Maxwell Beer nearly steals the show as Arty, the youngest boy. This kid is a total professional. He knows how to set up a joke, present the line, and sustain the mood. His accent is right on. His mobile face and delightful vocalics are refreshing in one so young.

Beachwood native Alex Wyse, who cut his acting teeth on local stages, is excellent as Jay, the more uptight of the two boys. Welcome home Alex!

Though at times Sara Surrey is not childlike enough as Aunt Bella, her second act monologue is right on target, as is her final speech.

Anthony Crane is “gangsta” right as Uncle Louie. Patricia Buckley, is fine as the daughter who is so traumatized that she literally gasps for air in her mother’s presence.

John Plumpis fails on two levels as Eddie, the boys’ father. His performance stays on the surface. He feigns emotional weakness, he is not experiencing it. And, to add to his problems, even though the script specifically refers to his New York accent, he has none.

Michael Schweikhardt’s period correct set and David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes add to the quality of the production, as does lighting designer Paul Miller’s “hot” lighting, which had the audience sweating in the middle of a Cleveland winter night.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Cleveland Play House’s ‘LOST IN YONKERS’ is a winner. It’s an evening of theatre that will delight and enlighten. It’s hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t appreciate this Neil Simon gem.