“Lost in Yonkers,” by Neil Simon
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield
Running July 16-Aug. 1
Tuesday/Wednesday, 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 5 p.m., Wednesday/Friday matiness, 2 p.m., additional matinee, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2 p.m.
Tickets 420 and up; $15 and $20 for previews. barringtonstage.org.
It’s the middle of summer in the Berkshires. For me, the perfect end to a hot, sunny Berkshire summer day is a Broadway-quality show in a crisply air-conditioned theater. And yet again, Barrington Stage delivers! I’m so thankful that I was invited to the opening night of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” at Barrington Stage Company — not only for the air conditioning but also because this production is magnificent! Seriously, this is one of those “don’t miss” shows. It’s beautiful.
Set in Yonkers in 1942, this is a story about 15-year-old Jay and his younger brother Arty, two children who lost their beloved mother to cancer. Their father, Eddie, in an effort to save his wife whom he loved so dearly, went into debt to pay for her medical care. Some of that debt was through a loan shark and the pay back deadline is looming. In Eddie’s desperation to meet the loan shark’s deadline, he asks his estranged mother and disabled sister to take in his sons for one year allowing him to travel as a salesman to earn the money he needs.
It’s an uncomfortable situation with uncomfortable characters: a widowed and desperate father, a gruff grandmother, a gangster uncle who may be in imminent physical danger (Kevin Spacey won the Tony Award for this role on Broadway!) and two aunts — one with a disability and the other with an uncomfortable speech problem. But, in all of this discomfort, these characters are likable and strangers become family.
It’s always thrilling to see an actor you recognize from TV on the Berkshire stages. This time it’s Lynn Cohen who I watched on TV in both “Sex and the City” and “Damages.”Ms. Cohen delivers a strong, expert performance as the stoic, harsh grandmother, but it was the youngest cast members that blew me away.
I was so incredibly and equally impressed with both Matt Gumley as Jay; and Jake Giordano as Arty, the two young brothers. Matt Gumley’s ability as a realistic character actor is astounding. He just blew me away. Wow! Fantastic! (Side note: It may impress your kids to learn that Matt Gumley is also the voice of Dora the Explorer’s friend Benny the Bull!) The loveable Jake Giordano as Arty, the younger of the two brothers is just as good, possessing remarkable comedic timing. This super adorable and talented kid is a bonafide miniature Ray Liotta.
I would say that these two kids stole the show, but Paula Jon DeRose as Bella, the boys’ aunt is equally as wonderful. She delivers an exquisite performance portraying Jay and Arty’s highly functioning disabled aunt. This production very much becomes about this woman and her journey to explore the internal dynamic between the woman she is physically and emotionally and the child she is intellectually.
The set is simple but creative and visually stimulating. The stage is divided horizontally between an apartment in Yonkers below and the sky above without a roof as a divider. The lighting is incredibly effective and stirring. The lights dramatically drop to pitch black on many occasions. (To the person texting in the front of the orchestra: Really? In the pitch-black theater, I was immediately drawn to your lit screen.) That said – this show transcended that minor distraction.
Speaking of texting, bring your teens to this production! There is one short, beautiful scene that could be considered mildly disturbing – but it’s not an unimportant message for teens. So, please, do bring yourselves and your teens to experience this raw, powerful, funny, moving play.
It’s a comedy but it is thick with drama. I love a show that can both move you to emotional depths and give you a laugh. I found myself both laughing out loud and being moved to tears. My eyes spent almost the whole of Act 2 welled up and I caught myself wiping away many tears.
The show runs just shy of two and half hours with a perfectly timed intermission, during which my friend and I enjoyed coffee and mini cupcakes from the ultra-adorable Mary’s Carrot Cake shop across the street. I was so entertained, I felt like I was sitting in the theater for no more than an hour. It is that good. When I’m seeing a show that is not a musical, this is exactly how I like it. This is non-musical live theater at its very best. Frankly, this is one of the best shows I’ve seen.