Village Theatre's production of Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" features a relatable story told with top-notch actors and director.

Share story

Surviving life when it doesn’t go as you’d like, and surviving family whose members aren’t people you’d choose — that’s what “Lost in Yonkers” is all about.

The 1991 Broadway production won four Tony Awards, and the play received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1992. It was turned into a movie in 1993 and has been a favorite of regional theaters ever since. This is Neil Simon at his best. It’s full of his hallmark humor, but, at heart, it’s more poignant than comical.

Village Theatre’s production, directed by former Village staffer Brian Yorkey, captures all its wit and all its heartbreak. (Yorkey’s most recent of many theater awards was a Tony in 2009 for his lyrics for the score of Broadway’s “Next to Normal,” which he also wrote the book for.) As a director, he’s in top form here.

The semi-autobiographical story centers on two brothers in their early teens left with their intimidating and unlovable grandmother after their mother dies and their bankrupt dad is forced to travel for work. This grandma is incapable of showing love, and her terrifying ways have damaged all of her own children.

But she, too, is wounded, maimed by prejudice, incessant labor and broken dreams. No matter the reason for her domineering ways, she’s no fun to be around; young Arty and Jay manage to survive her guardianship only because of their simple-minded Aunt Bella and their tough-talking Uncle Louie — who happens to be a criminal.

All the acting is top-notch. Suzy Hunt as Grandma makes you cringe. She’s a caldron of seething anger, yet never once does she overplay the role. Jennifer Lee Taylor as the vulnerable, badly used Aunt Bella moves back and forth between heart-wrenching desolation and childlike delight as she seeks some joy in her bleak environment. The boys, Jay (Collin Morris) and Arty (Nick Robinson), have some of the best lines in the play and carry them off with aplomb. They’re desperate to escape, but smart enough to find survival mechanisms.

Robinson (who was a highlight in Intiman Theatre’s “A Thousand Clowns”) makes a perfect mouthy but contrite Arty. Scenic Designer Bill Forrester’s set evokes period, time and place with the shabby furniture, brown woodwork and transom windows in Grandma’s apartment. In a clever bit of stagecraft, the commercial buildings of Yonkers loom above and outside.

This is an affecting, yet funny, portrayal of how festering wounds can destroy generations.

The secret is that the laugh lines aren’t cheap. The sentiment isn’t maudlin. This is life.

Nancy Worssam: nworssam@earthlink.net