by guest reviewer, Richard Tiegs. Thanks, Richard, for submitting a review to the blog!
Photos by Emily McKnight
Iowa City – Iowa City Community Theatre opened Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers on March 11th to a small crowd. It’s a shame so many other things are happening at the same time as this show, for this is a gem of a production. Flaws? Yes, there are a few, but more about them in due time.
Lost in Yonkers tells the story of a pair of young men who are shunted off to grandma’s house after their mother’s death. While it is a matter of survival for their father to pay off significant debt incurred by his late wife’s illness, the real matter of survival is for the boys with their reluctant grandmother. Andrew Mark Stewart and Noah Freeman play brothers Arty and Jay very convincingly. The boys have the burden of carrying the opening of the show; it took a few minutes for the opening nerves to settle in, but each turned in a superb performance. There was never any doubt that they were brothers!
Their father, Eddie, portrayed by Duane Larson, offered the first glimpse into this flawed family; I did not know the play and it took time to warm up to his character. Larson played the part so well that you remember it later in the show as you realize how the flaws in this family occurred and you look for redemption at the conclusion. As you meet Eddie’s siblings, you understand how flawed each one is. Valerie Davine Bills gets the least amount of stage time, but she conveys her character flaws effortlessly and with a good deal of humor. When asked about her flaw near the end of the play, we get the answer that leads us to believe that there is hope in each of the character’s futures.
The remaining three actors turn in superb characterizations. Brett Borden gives us a truly bombastic portrayal of Louie and yet his soft underbelly is evident throughout. When the barbs hit his soft underbelly, we see all that bravura as his coping mechanism for his character’s flaw. We see the heart of gold that underlies his character. Borden is a fine actor, but he gets schooled by his two female co-stars.
Erin Mills, as Bella, probably has the hardest job of the cast. Her dialect is true and consistent. Her characterization of a girl-child in a woman’s body is powerful. I’ve never pulled for a character in a play as much as I did for hers. We all need to listen to the story of Bella and understand that she is expressing basic human needs that you and I may have taken for granted or suppressed in our own lives. Mills does not lose her focus and gives a truly remarkable performance. As she comes up against the show’s antagonist, I wanted to get out of my seat and say ,”You go, girl!” And she does it not once but twice in the last half of the play. We come to realize that this character has played all of us for all she was worth and comes out of the conflict as a better person.
The show’s antagonist, Grandma, is played by Evelyn Stanske. Stanske is wonderful in this role and you can tell that a lifetime of observation has gone into making the role hers. I don’t know many octogenarians who try to memorize scripts. There are a few memory lapses, but Stanske covers them so well, you don’t realize there are lapses. She incorporates them into the character and provides a consistent portrayal. Even her mutterings to herself in German are moments of genius. And the changes to the flawed family of this story are evident in Grandma with just the positioning of a few muscles in Stanske’s face. The woman is a masterful!
Director Nate Sullivan and his cast and crew provided us a truly remarkable evening. I was shocked to find how late it was when I left the theater. I was still begging for more. The costumes by Rachael Lindhart are classic and fit the period well. It is not easy to make us believe we are in Yonkers near the start of the Second World War. The set had me believing I was in an apartment in Yonkers; I could even hear the noise in the adjoining apartment! The set design worked with one exception. The door to Grandma’s room did not work well for all actors. Some actors used the door and had me believing I was in the apartment; others actors used their bodies to shield me from something behind the door. And it may well be they were shielding me from Grandma! The set crew had a few problems with the furniture and we wondered one time if the transformation would occur in time for lights up! I hate those moments as a stage hand when everything conspires against me!
I encourage you to see the show. It is well done. It gives me a moment to pause as I consider my parenting style with my own sons and how I may have tainted them for life. I want to apologize to my future children-in-law now.
Lost in Yonkers runs March 11-13, and 18-20 at the Iowa City Community Theatre on the Johnson County Fairgrounds in south Iowa City. Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available here.