Welcome to 1942. For the next two hours, you are no longer in Mitchell Hall Theater. You will be Lost in Yonkers.
You find yourself in a grandmother’s house. The family you are about to become part of appears to be the perfect nuclear family on the outside, but looks are deceiving.
Neil Simon’s play, Lost in Yonkers, is set in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1942. The father, Eddie (Scott Taub), has decided to leave his two sons, Jay (Matt Berger) and Arty (Hillary Kaylor), with their grandmother (Terry Unger) who is a mean and bitter old woman. The children’s mother just died, and their father cannot take care of them while he works to support the family. The boys have not spent very much time with their grandmother or their aunts and uncle, but they soon learn a lot about them.
Aunt Bella, played by Jessica Harwood, is a woman of about 30 but has the mind of a little girl. Uncle Louie (Avi Liss), who makes his money illegally, has stopped into town to visit his mother and sisters. The dynamic between this tough man and the two young boys provides humor as he tries to communicate with these children who have had no experience in the real world. Aunt Gert (Freya Leff), who has a severe breathing disorder, stops in occasionally throughout the play.
So far it seems like a fairly normal family, right? As the play progresses and the characters begin to interact with each other, you begin to see the tragedy of this family. Each character has an interesting story of his or her own. But the main conflict revolves around Aunt Bella and her mother.
Bella met a man and wants to marry him, but she needs her mother’s approval. This conflict takes place in the second act – the most powerful act of the play. Tears are almost guaranteed. Though the play becomes very emotional at times, a little relief is provided by the occasional humorous conversation between Uncle Louie and his nephews.
Lost in Yonkers is the first play being performed by the newly formed Jewish Student Association Theater Company. Director Eva Price and producer Karen Krantweiss founded the company. Price said Hillel does not provide enough entertainment in the arts, so she started the JSA to supplement Hillel’s other activities. The JSA Theater Company will perform many different plays in the coming years, all of which will be connected to Jewish heritage. The JSA will produce a play in the fall and spring and might perform a musical as well.
Lost in Yonkers is entertaining, although occasionally there is the feeling that something is missing. For example, Aunt Gert’s breathing problem is not quite believable, and perhaps more time should have been spent on casting characters who physically match the role they are playing. Jay appears to be quite a bit older than his father, Eddie, which seems a bit awkward.
But, the new theater company has a lot of charisma and talented actors. Harwood is amazing in her role as Aunt Bella. She combines the excitement and innocence of a child with the true emotions of a woman to make this character memorable and touching. Liss is a perfect New Yorker as Uncle Louie. He is in your face and funny.
In its debut, JSA Theater Company gives a strong showing. Although there are still a few things that need to be tweaked, the JSA’s Lost in Yonkers is a heartfelt story that will move you.
Lost in Yonkers will be performed in the Mitchell Hall Theater Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $2 for students, $5 for the general public.