Joey Arena & Abram Korfhage in Lost in Yonkers. Photo courtesy Little Colonel.
Lost In Yonkers
By Neil Simon
Directed by George Robert Bailey
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Whether or not Lost in Yonkers is Neil Simon’s greatest play may be arguable; there are a lot of plays to compare it to, but it did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1991, beating out plays like Six Degrees of Separation. Although it does have plenty of humor, including several classic Simon one-liners, it is most distinguished by the heartfelt pathos that refuses to be resolved in a tidy fashion.
It is New York City, 1942. Jay (Spencer Korcz) and Arty (Abram Korfhage) are forced to live temporarily with their Grandma Kurnitz (Rena Cherry Brown) while their now-widowed father, Eddie (Rick Fletcher) travels to make enough money selling scrap iron to pay off his debt to a loan shark. Grandma is not enthusiastic about the idea and is resolutely a pretty mean and unreasonable old woman. Aunt Bella (Megg Ward), herself a little kooky, lives with and takes care of Grandma and is happy to have the boys move in.
Eventually, shady Uncle Louie (Joey Arena) arrives for a brief stay in order to evade some equally shady men who are looking for him, and the story truly begins to unfold. Lost in Yonkers can easily be assumed to be another autobiographical play, one in which we see Jay as Simon, but don’t mistake this for an entry in the Eugene plays. Simon turns the focus away from the brothers and onto the older generations, so that, in the end, this is Bella and Grandma’s story more than anything.
Megg Ward’s performance delicately explores Bella with great care and tenderness. Some degree of emotional instability is hinted at, and her mental maturity seems also in question, but Simon resists any temptation to apply modern labels to her neurosis. And when we finally are able to investigate Grandma’s history, the climax is a beautiful rendering of the difficult truths that lie at the core of both women. Simon opens up the characters just enough to gain understanding but doesn’t pander to the audience with false transformations. He allows all of his characters their reality.
Rena Cherry Brown’s intractable Grandma, whose stubborn core seems made of pig iron, matches Ms. Ward’s nuanced work. Joey Arena is a brusque but loving Louie, touching upon the characteristics of the gangster character without giving in to the cliché.
Spencer Korcz is very fine as Jay, and has good chemistry with Abram Korfhage, so that we can see the bond between them. Both display expert comic timing, which is especially impressive in one as young as Korfhage. Rick Fletcher is also very good as Eddie, and Leigh Ann Barcellona arrives towards the end to play Aunt Gert, nailing her laughs with a very individual comic bit that I won’t spoil here.
Lost in Yonkers is a deeply moving play. It takes the audience by surprise but it is no gimmick, just honest writing and solid observation and insight into humanity, and director George Robert Bailey has delivered one of the strongest and most satisfying productions I have seen on the Little Colonel Playhouse stage.
Lost In Yonkers
March 9, 10, 15, 16, & 17 at 7:30pm
March 11 & 18 at 2:00pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 400
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.