Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Eddie Kurnitz has a serious problem. His wife just recently died from cancer and he is straddled with a $9,000 debt from a loan shark for money he borrowed to pay for her medical expenses. Since he has just a year to pay them off, his only recourse to raise the funds is to take a stressful but high paying job as a traveling salesman. But what will he do with his young teenage boys Jay and Arty? Could he possibly leave them with his harsh and strong mother, whom he is estranged from, and his childlike, mentally challenged sister Bella?
Simon's play is a coming of age story for Jay and Arty but also provides considerable character arcs for Bella, Grandma, and even Eddie. While it isn't related to Simon's Brighton Beach series of plays it does feature many of those plays' themes, such as the importance of family and taking responsibility for your actions, and how things we experience as children impact us as adults.
DST's cast is top-notch. Under Mark Alan C. Clemente's assured direction, George Piccininni and Christian Bader are giving exceptional performances as Jay and Arty. Both are on stage for almost every scene and these two teens completely hold their own with their more experienced castmates. They have excellent facial expressions, fine comic timing, and always appear to be invested in the moment. They deliver realistic portrayals of these two boys that make you not only want to protect them but also see them learn and grow from their experiences.
As good as Piccininni and Christian Bader are, the cast also features three exceptional actors who have appeared in dozens of shows across the Valley. As Bella, Heidi Carpenter is delivering a heartbreaking and heartwarming performance. Bella is excitable and absent minded, yet full of love and protection for Jay and Arty. Carpenter does a wonderful job in portraying the many facets of this woman who may appear weak but finds out, once she realizes she desperately needs to find someone to love who will love her back, that she can be as strong as steel. KatiBelle Collins is superb as Grandma. She is a firecracker in the part. Her flawlessly delivered lines, in an excellent German accent, perfectly paint this feisty, hard, yet incredibly strong woman who has experienced a lot in her life. The confrontational scene late in the play between Carpenter and Collins, in which they both come to terms with each other and what has happened in their past, is extremely moving and makes you care deeply for each character.
Timothy Pittman is full of life as as Louie, Bella and Eddie's gangster brother who is a charming yet somewhat menacing man. Jay says "It's like having a James Cagney movie in your own house." As charming as the character can be, when Louie gets angry, Pittman doesn't shy away from showing what Louie is capable of.
In smaller parts, Roy Thielen gets across a good sense of the concern that the flustered Eddie has in having to ask his mother to take in his boys. He also does well in his scene toward the end of the play where he has to stand up for himself. As his other sister Gertrude, Michele Richmond provides a few moments of sweetness and humor.
While Clemente and Matt Stetler's set design is fairly simple, but serviceable, the costumes by Mickey Courtney are excellent and include character and period appropriate dresses and suits. Spencer Claus' hair designs are equally as good. Also, the cast's New York accents are consistent and rich.
Lost in Yonkers won Neil Simon much praise, a healthy Broadway run, and many awards, including the Tony for Best Play. With a superb cast, excellent direction and rich creative elements, Desert Stages' production shows that all of that acclaim was completely warranted.
For more information on Lost in Yonkers at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, which runs through November 13th, 2016, call 480 483-1664 or desertstages.org.
Written by Neil Simon