Weston’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’ deeply satisfying

By Jim Lowe
THE LOWE DOWN

WESTON — Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” is a masterpiece of comedy and drama, because it is at once neither and both. In short, it entertains, reflecting a deep humanity.

And Weston Playhouse opened a production last week that tapped beautifully into that humanity, with its excellent cast and beautifully crafted storytelling. This is what theater does best.

Opening on Broadway in 1990, the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning “Lost in Yonkers” begins with Jay, 15, and Arty Kurnitz, sitting uncomfortably in a summer-hot, barely middle-class living room while their father, Eddie, goes in and out of a door into an unseen bedroom. The repartee is classic Neil Simon comedy.

Until Grandma Kurnitz enters.

Eddie, whose wife has just died leaving him with a huge debt from her medical bills, must go on the road to earn enough to pay off a loan shark. He’s here to beg Grandma to take in the boys while he’s gone. But Grandma Kurnitz is not a typical sweet grandmother; rather, she’s an angry German Holocaust survivor who has never sought help from anybody — and she’s not about to take in a couple of teenaged American boys.

But blood tells, and, under pressure, she takes them in. What ensues is a mixture of comedy, tragedy and adventure while the Kurnitz family gets to know each other and come to grips with themselves.

It’s not always pretty, but it’s ultimately entertaining and rewarding.

The Weston production, directed by Kent Paul, sensitively and sympathetically explores these colorful family members and their deep connection. There are a lot of laughs along the way, but there is much more.

The dramatic backbone at Friday’s performance came from Grandma, as Elizabeth Franz delivered a subtly layered performance, allowing only hints of the octogenarian’s love and humanity to seep out. Her conscience was her slow-witted daughter, Bella, given an engaging and deeply touching performance by Sarah Stockton. Their face-off scene, just before the end, was powerful and beautiful theater.

Also most engaging were the dimensional performances of the boys. Michael Seltzer delivered the older Jay’s earnestness and boy-man struggle, while Luke Haefner gave Arty the perfect mix of child and wiseacre charm. In addition to pathos, they had great comic timing.

Davy Raphaely gave a charming comic portrayal — and more — as the lovable but weak and self-centered gangster Uncle Louie. Jesse Liebman delivered the warmth, loving and desperation of Eddie. And Tracy Michalaidis filled out the cast effectively as the supportive but troubled Aunt Gert.

Ideally, some of the comic moments and affectations, including Gert’s wheezing and Louie’s ebullience, might have been ratcheted down just a notch to make it feel more seamless. Still, it was all within the range of a traditional Simon performance.

The physical production was Weston at its best. Edward T. Morris’ Yonkers apartment design was most effective, with its decayed gentility beautifully lit by Matthew McCarthy. Costumes by Linda Fisher were period and most attractive (though Eddie was awfully well-dressed for someone so broke). Robert C. Rees’ original music and sound design added an extra layer to the ambience.

Weston Playhouse’s “Lost in Yonkers” is theater at its most rewarding.

Weston Playhouse

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company presents Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” July 20-July 29 at the Weston Playhouse on the Village Green (12 Park St.) in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday and Saturday. For tickets or information, call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.