ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The production of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” at The Adobe Theater surprised me. In 1991 I saw the play on Broadway and found it an uncomfortable mixture of comic shtick and psychological pretension.
Then, my only audience was my wife to whom I commented, “I just love Tennessee Simon.” The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
On opening night, the Adobe production (lacking a violent moment that offended me on Broadway) seemed a much better play. I am pleased to recommend it to my Albuquerque audience.
Following the idyllic “Brighton Beach” trilogy of the 1980s, Simon provides another memory play with harsher content. The play, set in 1942, begins with the familiar two brothers, this time Jay, 15, and Arty, 13, waiting in their grandmother’s Yonkers apartment. Their father Eddie pleads offstage with his steely mother to keep the boys while he travels to earn money to repay a loan shark. Eddie borrowed the money to finance his late wife’s extended battle with cancer.
Grandma lived through childhood brutality in Germany and an injury to her foot has never stopped hurting. At the deaths of two children, she suppressed her emotions and raised her children to do the same – in the name of strength.
She lives above her candy store with her 35-year-old daughter Bella, whose mental development has hardly progressed beyond childhood. Yet it is Bella who welcomes the boys to the apartment.
Grandma’s surviving children all suffer from their harsh upbringing. Louis adopts Grandma’s cruel conditioning meant to produce emotionless strength. He is a bagman for the mob who has stolen since he was 5.
Young Jay and Arty must search for their own values and traits amid these dysfunctional family members.
Director Heather Lovick-Tolley presents fine ensemble acting. Nik Hoover and Vincent F. Vargas are likable as the wisecracking boys, and Vernon Poitras mines the role of Eddie for pathos. Ned Record brings life to Louis as he stands up to his mother and captivates his nephews.
Ninette S. Mordaunt is wonderful as the harsh, mean, withholding matriarch who fights to keep her fears and sorrows at bay. It is not easy to maintain such cold control while remaining sympathetic.
My favorite portrayal was Kamila Kasparian’s Bella. Her hands always in motion and her face conveying effort and confusion, Kasparian presents a heartwarming survivor driven to find the love that was denied her.
“Lost in Yonkers” is a pleasant surprise.