Mrs. C. finds herself Lost in Yonkers
May 29, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
TORONTO – My big question going into the Harold Green Theatre’s production of Lost in Yonkers was: can Mrs. C pull it off? Those of us of a certain age will know that Marian Ross is best known for having played the beloved Mrs. Cunningham on the iconic Happy Days series back in the ’70s.
It is quite a departure for her to play the stern German-Jewish matriarch of the Kurnitz family and I admit it was a shock at first to see her 30 years older, grey braids piled on her head. However, she was great in the role and all thoughts of her Happy Days persona were gone from my head within minutes.
Ross’s nuanced performance – where just an inflection in her voice could draw laughs or tears from the audience – was a joy to behold. But all of the performances were wonderful in this version of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers – surprisingly the only play of his to win a Pulitzer Prize.
The story is part family melodrama and part of coming of age story, with generous sprinklings of humour throughout to offset the sometimes oppressive pain of this dysfunctional family.
The play takes place in Grandma Kurnitz’s small old-fashioned apartment; specifically in the 1942 styled living room. This might be a surprise to those who have seen the 1993 film with Mercedes Ruhl, which had scenes in various outdoor locations. The fact that all of the action takes place on one set means that the audience is hyper-focused on the writing and the acting.
The story begins with the recently widowed Eddie being forced to leave his two teenaged sons with his unwilling mother, while he travels for work. The younger son, Arty, is played with aplomb by Thornhill native Jesse Shimko. He manages to imbue the character with the changing emotions of a child who is starting to grow up.
Alessandro Costantini gives a heartfelt performance as the protective older brother Jay – and both actors deliver perfect New York accents, which add to the authenticity of play.
The character of Aunt Bella was played by Linda Kash who you are likely to remember from her guest roles in ’90s comedies such as Seinfeld or Cybill or as the angel in the Philadelphia cream cheese commercials. She is positively magical in this difficult role of playing a child-like woman who is struggling to find her own identity in the shadow of her controlling mother.
Unfortunately, her husband was killed recently in a car accident and she has left the production to be with her family.
Finnerty Steeves, who played Bella off-Broadway in the recently acclaimed revival, joined the company for the remainder of the run.
David Eisner, Sheila McCarthy and Ari Cohen round out the cast with believable performances in the portrayal of three more larger-than-life characters – Bella’s three siblings who all have their share of tzuris from the past that they are trying to overcome. At times the play is depressing, especially when going into details of how harshly they were all treated as children. But overall, the comic timing and the well-delivered lines made for an enjoyable theatrical experiences.
Lost in Yonkers is playing at the Jane Mallet Theatre until June 10.