Theater Review: Neil Simon’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’ — a semi-biographical gem

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Currently playing at the Beloit Civic Theatre in Beloit, Wis., Lost in Yonkers is the first in Neil Simon’s trilogy of his own life growing up in New York and how he became one of the outstanding playwrights in modern theater. Lost in Yonkers is his first work and it won him more awards than any of his other plays, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Michael Chase directs, and his long career in theater includes performances in London, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, Wis. His notes are a tribute to the late Josh Burton, whose last work at New Court Theatre included Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound. Chase appeared in both plays, and my reviews reflected the quality of the productions. He quotes Josh, saying: “He insisted that his actors say the words exactly as Simon wrote them. … ‘It’s all there for you: the cadence, the rhythm, the set-up, the punch line.’” Chase closes his comment saying: “Josh Burton was an inspiration to me and to many others in Beloit. I would like to dedicate this production to his memory.” We all agree.

Chase’s choice of cast couldn’t be better. This family, dominated by matriarch Grandma Kurnitz (Donna Balsley), represents the joys and conflicts of every relationship. Grandma’s four children, now adults, still carry the scars of their mother’s childhood experiences. In her first appearance on stage, my judgment of Bella (JoAnn King) was … “she’s the crazy one.” I couldn’t be more wrong. Her performance is one of the best in recent memory. While she is battling to achieve her own identity, her mother’s view of her as a child is the source of constant conflict. Her dramatic monologues brought ovations from the audience.

Jonathan Marko plays Eddie, the father of Jay (Larry Larys Jr.) and Arty (Joshua Wick). Teen-agers forced to live with their grandmother while their father goes on the road to pay the medical bills of their recently-deceased mother, they are the epitome of the discontent of growing up. The appearance of Louie (Michael Mugnani) and his suspected “shady” background lends a whole new aspect to this complicated family.

The Beloit Civic Theatre continues to present outstanding theatrical productions. Its long-standing history is a tribute to the entire company. Playing through Feb. 4, tickets are available by calling (608) 362-1595. Beloit Civic Theatre’s home is the Elizabeth Reinholz Theatre. It is at the south end of Beloit High School. The address is 1223 Fourth St., Beloit, Wis.

From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue

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