LOST IN YONKERSby Neil Simon
Artisan Center Theater
Directed by Steven Lindsay
Production Manager – Bethany Jarrell
Costume Designer – Rebecca Roberts
Props Designer – Chris Seil
Lighting/Set/Sound Designer – Nate Davis
Stage Manager – Dave and Amy Sorter
CAST (from the reviewed performance)
Danny Macchietto – Louie Kurnitz
Dawson Graham – Jay
Dorothy Sanders – Grandma Kurnitz
Jonathan Russell – Eddie Kurnitz
Kristi Taylor – Bella Kurnitz
Kristine Sims – Gert Kurnitz
Max Vrij – Arty
Reviewed Performance: 4/25/2014
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Nate Davis, as Set, Lighting and Sound Designer, does an amazing job matching these up all together. The extended set, in this black box theater, encompasses the audience to make you feel part of the scene. You are not only an observer but a fly on the wall, ready to overhear the drama and dysfunction of the Kurnitz family.
Lost in Yonkers is a play where two teenage boys, Jay and Arty, are left with relatives while their Dad is away making money during World War II. It is through the dark times of the war that the two boys deal with a tough German Jewish Grandma, a mobster uncle, and two crazy aunts, teaching both Jay and Arty what they must learn to appreciate what family is all about.
Director Steven Lindsay did an amazing job picking the cast, making it is easy to see the dynamics between the Kurnitz family; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Dorothy Sanders, as Grandma, has the part nailed as a hard-hearted woman who has endured too much suffering, as much of the immigrants in the United States had in the 1940s. It was Sanders hard glare, pursed lips, tapping cane and wagging finger that makes her character feared by the family. Yet, a softer side comes out as we see her constantly fixing the doilies on the furniture, even as the cast makes their last exit. Throughout the play, Sanders truly exemplifies that she is a survivor no matter what situation her family is going through.
Jonathan Russell, playing the boys’ father Eddie, has a unique role in that he has more voiceover dialogue than onstage scenes as he is traveling for work. His bright smile and genuine hugs show the love for his boys and the journey his family has been on. Russell does have some line issues that are distracting. It is a solid voice though, reading his letters that brings in his sense of humor and the different dialects of the United States.
Jay, played by Dawson Graham, has both highlights and lowlights throughout the performance. Jay is a sarcastic sixteen-year-old trying to be brave for his brother during this difficult transition, but also wanting to be a financial helper for his dad. Graham shows true grit and determination when he finally stands up to Uncle Louie, but then quickly cowards away after his rant. While it seems like some lines are forced, Graham has done pat the part of an older brother. Through the staging, it is easy to see his protection for brother Arty, and his height allows him to “pull rank” by towering over him. His eyes are his best feature and they truly show the meaning behind Jay’s feelings. It is easy to see through shifty eyes how his mobster uncle makes his nervous, but also the love for his family as they grow wide. Graham has lots of potential and I can’t wait to see him grow in his acting career.
In the same way, Arty, who is played by Max Vrij, has a rough start in Act I, but gets better as the play progresses. Vrij plays an active thirteen-year-old needing to find his place within his family. His facial expressions don’t always match the words of the script, which makes it harder to comprehend the scene. Yet, his physicality during the fight with his brother and his high energy well represent how he feels being cooped up in his grandmother’s apartment.
Kristine Sims plays Aunt Gert and is the comedic relief in the play. Throughout the first act, Gert is mimicked for her wheezy breathing voice. It isn’t until Sims finally enters the play in Act II that you get the full effect. Every time she speaks, the audience would laugh, and her role brings a new relief to an otherwise depressing scene. Sims fits this minor role well by playing the “put in the middle” sibling. Her constant care to Bella with gentle hugs, soft eyes, and smiles allows Bella to find peace within the stress.
Uncle Louie, portrayed by Danny Macchietto, is hiding out from the mob in his mother’s apartment, and making his nephews lie to help protect him. Macchietto is a solid actor who completely sold me in his role. His nervous energy, continuously avoiding the window and his quirky facial expressions all the audience to comply fall in love with Uncle Louie. While lecturing Arty, Macchietto’s hands on his hips show his attempt at being serious. It is also his protective stance with Bella that shows a softer side as well.
Crazy Aunt Bella, played hilariously by Kristi Taylor, steals the show. Never once breaking character, Taylor has perfected the fidgeting, nerves, and compassion of Bella that Neil Simon had in mind. Her whole body shakes with excitement as she slowly goes from normal to crazy. Bella is the sole character throughout the play that teaches what family is really about. It was during her last two monologues that tears were streaming down my face as Bella explains how dysfunctional her family is, but that love can repair it all. Taylor’s presence fills the stage and I couldn’t wait to see her come back on stage each time.
Costumes by Rebecca Roberts are spot-on for the period and it was a particular joy to see what Bella would show up in next. It is interesting to see Roberts’ thought process in creating the dresses to fit Bella’s changing mood, from flowing and light to heavy and dark. Her outfits alone allow the audience to see the deeper meaning to the play.
Lighting is solid throughout the play and Nate Davis does an amazing job using backlighting through the window to show the time sequences. At the end of the play, as Bella has just told Grandma how to achieve what life is truly all about, a single spotlight on Grandma slowly fades to black. It gives a final closing on one chapter and the hope of the next one to come.
Davis also does an amazing job on the set. The simple living room is given careful thought to where location of pictures, furniture, and lamps should be. The couch folds out into a bed that becomes the night scenes and the bed is out the majority of the play, leading to great transition to the timing of the ten months while the dad is away. From the basket of needlework, to the radio, Davis brings the feel of home to the Artisan Center Theater.
As stated previously, the sound design for this show was spot-on. The music has a great eclectic feel that sets the scenes perfectly. My favorite part of sound is the train whistle and sounds that start right before the dad’s letters are read, which gives a great passage of time transition.
Chris Seil does a superb job on properties. It is easy to see the 1940 era magazine as Bella talks about attending the picture shows, but also the care of the needlework basket that Grandma works on when the whole family is together. While the props are simple within the show, they each have had great forethought placed into them to enhance the production.
Artisan Center Theater does a fantastic job with Lost in Yonkers, from the tiniest detail in properties to the vision Steven Lindsay had in mind with the cast. This is a heart-warming play with a clear message that shouldn’t be missed.
Artisan Center Theater
418 E. Pipeline Road
Hurst, Texas 76053
Runs through May 10th
Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening at 7:30 pm and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm.
Weekday tickets are $14.00 and $7.00 for children(12 under) . Weekend tickets are $18.00, $16.00 for seniors (60+)/students, and $9.00 for children. Group rate tickets are also available.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.artisanct.com or call the box office at 817-284-1200.