Review: Weston's 'Yonkers' delivers strong family vibes

WESTON — There's a reason why Neil Simon's tender coming-of-age play "Lost in Yonkers" won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize. It's not just great writing, but it's a family story laced with both comedy and tragedy to which everyday Americans can relate.

That is why the play has been one of this generation's enduring classics. It has a pulse that's all too human, and Simon is a master at getting both laughs and tears from the audience within seconds of each other.

Directed by Kent Paul, the play finds us in 1942 Yonkers. After the death of his wife and needing to pay off gambling debts, Eddie (Jesse Liebman) heads south on a work program, and drops off his two sons Jay, 15, (Michael Seltzer), and Arty, 13, (Luke Haefner) at his mother Grandma Kurnitz's (Elizabeth Franz) house, over the family store, which she still operates.

Living with her is Eddie's adult simpleton sister Bella (Sarah Stockton), and occasionally visiting are his other grown-up siblings Gert (Tracy Michailidis) and mob bagman Louie (Davy Raphaely). The story follows the 10 months of Eddie's absence as tensions rise between the Old World battle axe grandmother and her New World progeny.

We saw superb acting, as befits a Neil Simon offering.

Seltzer and Haefner nicely worked to each other's fraternal cues and played incisive contrasts as the older-younger cubs' combination. Seltzer's strength was the worrying he so well conveyed, while Haefner's devil-may-care vibe convinced throughout.

Liebman was not on stage as much as the others, but did well in revealing his angst and well as passing along traits as an adult son his character most likely developed as a youth, especially vis- -vis his mother.

On the one hand, Michailidis was only offered to us in the play's later scenes, but drew many laughs for her nervous aqualung impersonation, a nice bit of comedic timing. On the other hand, not only did Raphaely have on his wiseguy shtick to the hilt, but at times took it to a sly place of caricature, which added to the fun.

Finally, Franz, a Tony Award-winner, was the play's center of gravity, and the veteran actor drew every audience glance and stare to like pins to a magnet. Her steely glare, haughty resolve, and near -Teutonic accent had all eyes glued to her even in her painfully convincing movement across the stage. That's brilliance on stage.

The play ran two and half hours, which included a 15-minute intermission.

Lights by Matthew McCarthy and sounds by Robert C. Rees excelled. Costumes by Linda Fisher were superlative period renditions, and the set by Edward T. Morris a perfect complement to the era. Finally, Ruth E. Kramer's stage management was on the money in keeping the show logistics tight.

Southern accents and New York accents remain the toughest in the industry to mimic. As a native Brooklyn boy who lost his accent after leaving the city long ago, I feel for actors and great coaches like Patricia Norcia who give it their best, with mixed results.

The alternative is to drop all native accents and keep the foreign ones. In the age of the Internet, after all, an increasing number of young Americans are growing up almost accent free because of their daily exposure to other dialect, something not possible even a few decades ago. To date, no one in theatre has come up with a solution.

But what is not in doubt is that "Lost in Yonkers" is a masterpiece, and Weston's production is first-rate, top to bottom — as good, if not better, than anything you'd see on Broadway. Do yourself a favor and take the family to catch one of the last few days of this run.

"Lost in Yonkers" will run through July 29 at Weston Playhouse. Info: 802-824-8167 or

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at or on Twitter: @Telly Halkias


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