I confess that I really love Neil Simon plays. They never fail to make me laugh out loud even when I'm reading one of them, and the old lady in me finds it quite comfortable and refreshing to giggle at some good, clean if sometimes, cheesy humour.
LOST IN YONKERS isn't my favourite play by him (but it did earn him a Pulitzer) and I read it so long ago I forgot what much of it was about, so I was pleasantly surprised as I watched the production by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company on stage now at the Jane Mallet Theatre.
The show started off slow but gradually warmed into a full, heartfelt performance about family and the often-confusing blood-ties that bind us.
Much of the play's charm can be credited to Finnerty Stevens, the last-minute casting for the character of Bella. Stevens replaced cast-member Linda Kash who had to bow-out of the role due to a sudden death in her family. Steven's portrayal of the seemingly simple and naive Bella, lit up the stage whenever she graced it, and was the emotional anchor of the show, providing the much-needed audience empathy for the sometimes unsympathetic Kurnitz family unit.
Marion Ross, the star-factor of the production was GREAT as the steely matriarch. I found her unrecognizable from any photo I've ever seen of her (including the one plastered all over the show's marketing materials), which I think added to her believability as the fierce matriarch who hatches vengeful ideas that "Damages'" Patty Hewes would be proud of. She created a character that you simultaneously loved and hated, never quite sure where your emotions should lie or how you would handle Grandmother if you had to go up against her yourself.
The supporting characters were all stage-worthy - shout-outs to the brief, yet hysterical role of Gert inhabited by Sheila McCarthy. She turned a schticky, small character into a person with depth, and to Uncle Louie (Ari Cohen) the fast-talking gangster who ruins his independent, care-free demeanor in the end by revealing his affection and concern for younger sister Bella.
Although some moments were over-acted and occasionally the humour was played more for the result than for anything else, LOST IN YONKERS was overall a good, clean night out at the theatre.
If somewhat cheesy at times. Just what a Neil Simon should be.
LOST IN YONKERS is on stage now at the Jane Mallet Theatre (27 Front St. E.) until June 10.
For tix call: 416-366-7723 or click here.