Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lost In Yonkers (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN


Lost In Yonkers (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN

***1/2 (out of ****)

The prevailing image of grandparents in America today is one of doting indulgence, showering grandkids with the love, affection and gifts they likely never received growing up. Crusty and cranky had more typically been the norm.

I've heard horror stories from many a mature adult of a certain age over how frightened they were of their progenitors. Such a horror story is lovingly brought to life through the exceptional care of playwright Neil Simon via Lost In Yonkers, which opened last Friday at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater.

In this semi-autobiographical, dysfunctional family piece set during World War II, Simon places two young brothers -- Jay and Arty (played alternately by Noah Madoff and Ryan McCartan and Dylan Frederick and Ryan Howell, respectively) -- in the care of their German-born grandmother (Rosaleen Linehan) after the death of their mother. Their father Eddie (Michael Booth) must accept temporary, yet lucrative work on the road to pay off an enormous debt incurred while their mother was dying.

The boys aren’t especially keen to spend ten long months with their steely Grandma Kurnitz and childish Aunt Bella (Finnerty Steeves, pictured above). Grandma makes it abundantly clear that while caring for them is not her choice, they must earn their keep, so she has them tend to the family business downstairs. On the other hand, Bella welcomes the boys (and diversion from her mother), taking them into her confidence over her many visits to the movie theater and their resulting late nights.

Along the way, we also meet Grandma Kurnitz’s shady son Louie (Stephen Pelinski) and breathless daughter Gert (Suzanne Warmanen). Louie teaches the boys a thing or two about moxie, including how to stand up to the grandmother they fear, while Gert demonstrates perhaps the most unadulterated, motherly affection of all for Jay and Artie.

The acting is first-rate, with excellent performances by Linehan and Steeves. I’ve had an opportunity to see both sets of Jay and Artie perform -- each of these talented young men deftly deliver the goods complete with perfect New Yawk accents (in fact, all of them have it nailed down much better than Pelinski, who falls in and out of his). Booth wrings out a tender, heartfelt performance, while Warmanen makes us laugh with practically every line she utters.

While many of Simon’s plays are known for their broader humor, Lost In Yonkers is much more introspective and personal, succeeding with subtle, sophisticated wit and charm. Thanks in no small part to Gary Gisselman's expert, deliberate direction, Lost in Yonkers is particularly winning in making us not only understand what led Grandma Kurnitz to be so hardened in the first place, but also in the ability of Jay, Artie and Bella to ultimately breakthrough that crusty exterior to find that this monster is really a human being, complete with heart, after all.

Performances run through November 11.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Guthrie's Lost In Yonkers Opens Tonight (September 29, 2006)

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