Nancy Sasso Janis
"Did you ever notice there’s something wrong with everyone on Pop’s side of the family?"
Monroe, CT - Two Planks Theater Company concludes their third full season with a production of the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Lost in Yonkers.’ The play was written by America’s great comic playwright Neil Simon, the author of ‘The Odd Couple,’ ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ and ‘The Goodbye Girl.’ This memory play is set in 1942 and deals with a highly dysfunctional family living in a small apartment in Yonkers, New York.
The play has two roles for preteen boys, the children shown in the show’s poster. There were definitely some laughs mixed in with the drama, but much of that drama bordered on difficult to watch, especially the hard line taken by the tight-fisted paternal Grandma Kurnitz with her four adult children and two grandchildren. Perhaps I was expecting something along the lines of ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs,’ which I remembered as being much lighter fare. With the exception of the character of Bella, the mentally challenged aunt living with her mother, I found it hard to care about the trajectory of the lives of this family, although I tried my best to follow along.
This is not to take away from the excellent performances by the members of the Two Planks cast. Susan Halliwell directed the seven actors with care, with Brooke Burling serving as the play’s producer. Rob Primorac designed the good lighting and Mr. Burling designed the set that was austere by necessity, but highly functional. Kudos to costume designer Bella Pisani (who appeared briefly onstage in the Two Plank’s ‘Gypsy’ last summer) on a change for every one of the scenes; the ensembles fit both the period and the characters very well.
Sloane Burling, a junior at Masuk High School, played the older grandchild Jay, called “Yakob” by his grandmother. This young man is a singer and dancer with many musical theatre credits, but here he proved his acting chops. The younger brother Arty was played by Jake Minch, an eighth grade student at Monroe Stern Academy who has been performing since the age of eight. He was completely immersed in his young character who has lost his mother before the play begins.
Frank DeCaro appeared as one of the adult sons of the tough as nails Grandma, a mob henchman named Louie. This actor played the role of the other son Eddie at the Cheshire Community Theater in 2014. In this production, the role of the ne’er do well Eddie was played by Mike Martone, who was last seen on this stage in his TP debut role of Charlie in ‘The Foreigner.’
Jen Sokira, who recently played two roles in ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ on this stage, played Aunt Gert, another damaged offspring of Grandma. This character has difficulty breathing while speaking, at least when she is in her mother’s apartment. Because the actress is a classically trained vocalist, I worried about the effect this role might have on her voice. Luckily, she was referred to in the first act, but only appeared onstage after the intermission.
Phyllis Fabelinsky, who played Betty in ‘The Foreigner,’ took on the role of the pathologically mean Grandma. With gray braids wrapped on the top of her head, the actress played well the character that is feared by everyone (and with good reason) with an unwavering German accent. Randye Kaye returned to Two Planks to tackle the role of Aunt Bella, the most damaged adult sibling. This was her second time playing the part, one of her favorite roles ever. Suffice it to say that her performance was outstanding in every way.
Two Planks Theater Company’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’ runs through May 14. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 5 pm. The company’s mainstage season productions are presented at the United Methodist Church, 515 Cutlers Farm Road in Monroe.
Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to local Patch.com sites. Check out her Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417
Cast photos by Kim Burling