The Alban opened its summer production of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” Thursday night. Set in 1942, in the middle of World War II, the entire play takes place in the living room of an immigrant grandmother, a Jew who fled Germany to open a candy store in Yonkers. Sounds idyllic, does it not? Well, maybe idyllic is overreaching.
Although at times witty and charming, the play also has the ability to quickly turn dark and depressing due in no small part to Grandma Kurnitz, played by Terry Terpening . A stoic and bitter little woman, she toughens her children and grandchildren by withholding affection.
Terpening does a fantastic job shuffling around the stage with a believable German accent, wielding her cane like a weapon of deadly force and accusing everyone from her sons and daughters to her grandchildren of being thieves and crybabies. There is very little to like about her character, although Simon must have found something about her appealing as he set the rest of the characters in a perpetual state of trying to earn her love.
Particularly charming in their shenanigans of trying to simultaneously please and thwart Grandma Kurnitz are her grandsons, Jay (Micah Doss) and Arty (Kyle Casto). These two young men are charming and witty. They shine with tremendous talent and are quite convincing as young brothers temporarily abandoned into the care of an unfeeling relative. Their complex young characters make the best out of a sofa bed, a handful of postcards from dad and a family of strangers.
Not only are the family members strangers to the two young wards, they couldn’t possibly get much stranger, consisting of: maiden Aunt Bella (Brooke Hirst), a childlike woman with a few screws loose, their gangster Uncle Louie (Brian Roller) and their wheezing Aunt Gert (Randi Vaughan).
The kids make the best of it though while their dad, Eddie (Anthony Vickers), is away trying to raise money to pay off a loan shark.
Productions set entirely in one room are always risky. They depend solely on the ability of the actors to portray their characters almost exclusively through dialog and body language. Actors are left to create realistic relationships and emotion for the audience, relying heavily on their own talent and the chemistry with their fellow actors. In these things the Alban did not disappoint.
The characters and their relationships are believable and, in turn, each one has the opportunity to shine. They come across as very real, like everyday people whose lives the audience momentarily intrudes upon. Like a real family, they obviously care for one another even though they only express their love through broken means.
There is nothing catastrophic about “Lost in Yonkers,” no climactic height of action, no brilliant revelations, but in its quiet unassuming way it is real. In flashing moments it laid bare the human soul, the desire to love and to be loved within our brokenness.
This is an unobtrusive production, and amidst the chaos of opening nights and FestivALL it could easily be overlooked. It shouldn’t be. It is well worth your time and money to catch this show. It is suitable for families although children under 11 or 12 may not enjoy it as much as older kids.
“Lost in Yonkers” runs June 20th, 21st, 27th and 28th at 8:00 p.m. and June 22nd and 29th at 2:00 p.m. Do yourself a favor, go see it.