LATHAM — On a hot summer night in a stifling apartment over a candy store in Yonkers in 1942, teen-age brothers Jay (Kevin Zuchowski) and Artie (Micah Juman) anxiously await the outcome of a hushed private meeting between their recently widowed dad and their gorgon of a grandmother (Carol Charniga) that is taking place in the next room.
Having recently lost their mother to cancer, the boys’ dad, Eddie (Steven Leifer), has just found a job to alleviate the debt of the hospital bills incurred by their mother’s illness. But the job will require him to travel for almost a year. Eddie is hoping his mother will take care of Jay and Artie while he’s away.
To say that Grandma isn’t too happy about this request may be an understatement. And Jay and Arty aren’t very pleased about this proposed living arrangement either.
Why? This woman who raised their fearful and emotionally frightened dad Eddie, and his dysfunctional and damaged siblings; a petty thug and thief, Louie (Kevin Barhydt), the wheezy and truckling Gert (Pamela O’Connor) and the simple and child-like Bella (Kathleen Carey), may not be the best of babysitters.
Winner of almost every major award when it first premiered in 1990, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” is arguably Simon’s most masterful play.
Rich with heart, Simon weaves his comic gifts into and around a poignant story of loss and longing, and the power of how those emotions can trap and damage. Not strictly as autobiographical as the playwright’s “Brighton Beach Trilogy,” it’s a bit surprising that this play feels his most authentic.
These characters are richly human, drawn with huge scars and baggage and the playwright beautifully balances the wounds and foibles with humor that never oversteps.
Sensitively directed by Nan Mullenneaux, the production at Curtain Call Theater has assembled a terrific cast of seasoned veterans mixed in with a couple of great up-and-comers.
Charniga manages well to draw the rigid, miserly, emasculating Grandma Kurnitz away from cliché and cartoon, allowing the audience a peek into where those defense mechanisms manifested.
Barhydt gives Louie the right amount of bravado and swagger to impress his nephews but doesn’t disguise the truth. His act-two square-off with Charniga smolders with just the right amount of heat.
O’Connor and Leifer beautifully reveal their characters emotional scars — O’Connor with deft humor and Leifer with subtle scarred pain. Blessed with great comic timing and an innate gift on how to set up a joke, Juman and Zuchowski play off each other like a pair of old Vaudevillians each landing the characters’ comic lines perfectly. Yet never betraying Jay and Arty’s fear of what the future holds for each.
Both offer performances that predict a fine future on the stage for each young actor.
With Bella, Simon has written a brilliant and complex character. Upbeat, yet beaten, positive, yet mindful of what her future may hold, Bella’s awareness and fear of her limitations never overwhelm her innocence, and Carey succeeds in spades. Beaming and blissful with the simplest of Bella’s joys,
Carey becomes fierce when she finally confides her most wanted hope and wish. Bella’s act-two confrontation with her mother is expertly handled by Carey and Charniga and is one of the evening’s highlights.
Added to the success of this production is Curtain Call’s new theater space. Spacious and comfortable, Peter and Carol Max have created a gem of a venue. Intimate yet spacious, it’s well designed and appointed — and has a lot of parking! Go see “Lost in Yonkers” — and the new venue — doubtful you’ll be disappointed.
‘Lost in Yonkers’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, Latham
WHEN: Through Oct. 7
HOW MUCH: $27.50
MORE INFO: 518-877-7529, http:www.curtaincalltheatre.com