Lost in Yonkers | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Lost in Yonkers 

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Lost in Yonkers, Eclipse Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. Neil Simon's tragicomic study of family pathology won 1991's Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize. Set in 1942, it centers on two teenage brothers placed in the custody of their stern grandmother when their father moves south to become a scrap dealer for the war effort. Embittered by a difficult childhood in Europe and early widowhood in America, grandma is a cane-wielding domestic tyrant, especially cruel to Bella, her fragile daughter. The level of detail in Simon's characterization is almost clinical; for example, he perfectly captures the mixture of fear and fascination that Grandma Kurnitz inspires in the boys. Which makes the upbeat ending that much more of a cop-out; if only Simon had had the courage to go all the way in his emulation of Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! Still, Steve Scott's sensitive, surefooted staging goes a long way toward mitigating the final act. So does Lynne Hall as the grandmother: in contrast to the matriarchal monster played by Marji Bank 11 years ago at the Royal George Theatre, she's a wary, worn-out soul secretly looking for the right excuse to open up before she runs out of love altogether. CeCe Klinger is even more extraordinary as the neurotically needy Bella. The moment when this childlike dreamer turns to her mother to beg for her long-withheld love is a revelation.

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