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Theater Review

'Lost in Yonkers' Misplaces Simon's Texture

September 19, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTMINSTER — Neil Simon's semiautobiographical drama "Lost in Yonkers," even compared with his semiautobiographical trilogy "Brighton Beach Memoirs," etc., is arguably his most richly textured play.

In this revival at Westminster Community Theatre, director Lenore Stjerne has a lot of things right, except she hasn't managed to even delve into that rich texture.

Most important to this texture is the banter between the brothers, 13-year-old Arty and 15-year-old Jay. These are images of the young Simon and his brother, both of whom became comedy writers.

As in the other plays featuring the brothers, Simon has given them the gift of humor, but Stjerne brings out little of that quality in the performances of Ryan Mekenian as Arty and Channing Boyer as Jay.

Mekenian has the surest grip on the brothers' game, with his twinkling grin and look that a lot more is going on inside than shows on the surface. He gets most of his readings right.

Boyer plays Jay much too heavily and seriously, as though he doesn't know Mekenian is making wisecracks or that he is supposed to be returning the jabs. Boyer also looks way too old to be 15.

The boys have been left in the care of their Grandma Kurnitz at the beginning of World War II, while their father, Eddie, is off selling scrap iron for defense. It's a job forced on him by loan sharks who financed the medical care for Eddie's late wife, and who want their money right now.

*

Eddie's problem is echoed by the boys' distaste for their grandmother, an irascible, bitter woman who can't forget her hard life and a childhood of abuse in Germany.

Grandma Kurnitz also is saddled with Bella, Eddie's slightly retarded 35-year-old sister, and with infrequent visits from Eddie's brother, Louie, who is connected in a shadowy way with the mob. It's a colorful, many-hued play that tugs the heart, but it could tug harder than it does here.

Sandra Paskus is marvelous as the grandmother--hard as nails but not always able to cover the strong threads of affection beneath her anger. Stoic, with her knitting to distract her from the family's aches and pains, Paskus frequently allows her eyes just a slight shift to show that Grandma is aware, and cares.

Richard Comeau as Eddie and Jim Cantafio as Louie are as good, giving winning performances that are tempered well and further Simon's intent.

As Bella, Laura Flores Bossis finally settles down and is quite effective in her final tragic monologue, but mostly she skitters about with eccentric movements, splaying her legs when sitting and fidgeting with her hands. Bella is, as her mother says, "always a child," but she isn't spastic.

The other sister, Gert, who has a speech impediment only around her mother, is more realistically downplayed by Claudia Ehrhardt in a dramatic jigsaw puzzle for which Stjerne hasn't found all the pieces.

* "Lost in Yonkers," Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday only. . Ends Oct. 4. $11. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"Lost in Yonkers,"

Ryan Mekenian: Arty

Channing Boyer: Jay

Richard Comeau: Eddie

Laura Flores Bossis: Bella

Sandra Paskus: Grandma Kurnitz

Jim Cantafio: Louie

Claudia Ehrhardt: Gert

A Westminster Community Theatre production of Neil Simon's drama. Produced by Jeff Crumley. Directed by Lenore Stjerne. Scenic design: Bronson. Lighting/sound design: Mark D. Lyen. Costumes: Sandi Newcomb, Stjerne. Stage manager: Katie Turner.

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