Neil Simon's LOST IN YONKERS, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award, is set in 1942. The play tells the story of two teen-age brothers left by their father to stay with their bitter tyrannical grandmother and their child-like Aunt Bella. Uncle Louie shows up to hide out from gangsters and the perpetually breathless Aunt Gert makes a gasping appearance. Whether you call LOST IN YONKERS a comedy with serious moments or a drama with comic moments, it's a wonderful play about real people and one of Neil Simon's best.
Michael Schwiekhardt's terrific set gives an immediate impression of Grandma's dominant personality, with its heavy furniture and dark colors. I especially liked the wallpaper and discovered when reading the program later that it's vintage 1920s. No wonder it looked so right.
The costumes, designed by Junghyun Georgia Lee, are very good. I particularly liked Bella's homemade dress, Aunt Gert's purple snood and Uncle Louie's spiffy shoes.
The cast for the most part is solid. As Aunt Gert Suzanne Grodner manages to make the character's breathing problems believable - quite a feat. Brian Russell as Eddie gives us a three-dimensional father and does very well with the solo letter scenes.
Barbara Caruso is appropriately fierce as Grandma, a candy store owner who, as Louie says, ". . .could tell when salt was missing from a pretzel." She's especially good in her final scene with Bella, where we see more dimensions of the character.
As for Bella, Crystal Bock is wonderful in the role. She displays all the joy and optimism of this difficult character. Her Act II plea to her mother in front of the assembled family is very powerful and very moving.
Unfortunately Alex Liebman falls short as Jay, the sixteen year old son. He's not too much older than that, but is working so hard to be young, with over-widened eyes and strangely paced dialogue that the character never comes to life. Mr. Liebman proves once again that you can't learn comic timing - you either have it or you don't. It's too bad as he and Arty, (there are two sharing that role - I saw Brendan Eicholzer), have to carry the opening scene. Master Eicholzer, however, is excellent and brings life to the proceedings.
As Louie, the gangster-escaping uncle, John Viscardi is terrific. His characterization, although broad, is thoroughly believable. One of the high points of the play is his Act II opening scene with Arty.
Director Robert Moss has done his usual fine job of staging and directing the piece. He's given us a hilarious stage picture of Uncle Louie solemnly sharing a bed with the two boys. He's made us care about this family, especially Aunt Bella, without losing any of Simon's wonderful humor. This is a good production of a complex and very human play.
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of LOST IN YONKERS gets four and one-eighths oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.