Entertainment » Theatre

Lost in Yonkers

by Christopher Verleger
Contributor
Wednesday Dec 5, 2012
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Andrew Iacovelli as Jay and Matthew Pirraglia as Arty
Andrew Iacovelli as Jay and Matthew Pirraglia as Arty  (Source:Richard W. Dionne, Jr.)

A spirited young man and his kid brother are forced to endure ten grueling months under the roof of their ruthless grandmother and immature aunt in 2nd Story Theatre’s poignant, heartfelt production of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, semi-autographical World War II Era dramatic comedy, "Lost in Yonkers."

In addition to being awarded the 1991 Pulitzer Prize, "Lost in Yonkers" also won Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Leading Actress (Mercedes Ruehl), Best Supporting Actress (Irene Worth), and Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey). A film version was released in 1993, starring Ruehl, Worth and Richard Dreyfuss.

Reminiscent of the playwright’s renowned works "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues," "Yonkers" is another touching coming-of-age tale that profiles a year in the life -- 1942, to be precise -- of two brothers, 15-year-old Jay (Andrew Iacovelli) and 13-year-old Arty (Matthew Pirraglia) who are left to live with their Grandma (Paula Faber) and Aunt Bella (Hillary Parker) while their dad, Eddie (Joe Henderson), is out on the road earning money to repay debts incurred from his late wife’s battle with cancer.

To call the German-born Grandma emotionally absent would be a massive understatement, and her grown children are living proof of their strict, unduly harsh upbringing. Eddie is terrified of his mother and can’t help but cry constantly, Aunt Gert (Tray Gearing) can’t complete a sentence without gasping for air whenever in her presence, Bella has the mentality of a sixth grader, and Uncle Louie (Ara Boghigian), a small-time gangster, has never been out of trouble.

Under the masterful direction of Mark Peckham, on a stage designed beautifully by Trevor Elliott to resemble a vintage apartment located above a family-owned and operated candy store, the story of Jay and Arty’s daily life unfolds.

Under the masterful direction of Mark Peckham, on a stage designed beautifully by Trevor Elliott to resemble a vintage apartment located above a family-owned and operated candy store, the story of Jay and Arty’s daily life unfolds.

As much as the boys miss their dad and loathe their temporary dwelling, the two become better acquainted with Bella and Louie and begin to understand (sometimes reluctantly) how their grandmother, a product of a generation when survival rather than happiness was a priority, came to be the bitter, old woman before them.

Iacovelli is especially charming and delivers arguably his best performance (thus far) as older, wiser brother Jay. Pirraglia’s earnest portrayal of the younger, impressionable Arty will leave you smiling, and Boghigian is also at his best, despite being in caricature, as the swaggering Uncle Louie.

Faber’s impressive, piercing performance as Grandma Kurnitz perfectly conveys that of a woman who has suffered a lifetime of anguish and bitterness, and Parker steals the show (or at least every scene she is in) with her extraordinary, affecting portrayal of the damaged but not broken woman, Bella, determined to overcome her shortcomings.

Simon’s work has always managed to poke fun at unpleasant circumstances. "Lost in Yonkers," which is ultimately a story about family, is no exception, and 2nd Story Theatre’s gem of a production makes for an unforgettable family occasion.

"Lost in Yonkers" runs through Dec. 16 at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market Street, Warren, RI. For tickets and info, call 401-247-4200 or visit 2nd Story Theatre’s website.

Chris Verleger is an avid reader, aspiring novelist and self-professed theater geek from Providence. Email cwverleger1971@yahoo.com.

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