Based loosely on his childhood experiences, Neil Simon’s play Lost in Yonkers is a story of family dysfunction and the ever-enduring need for love. Simon’s play is simply constructed and beautifully written. At times serious and at times funny, The Ottawa Little Theatre Production, directed by Chantale Plante, strikes a good balance between the two genres and is an overall enjoyable experience.
Set in the early 1940s, the play opens with the teenagers Jay and Arty nervously sitting in their grandmother’s stuffy Yonkers apartment while their father talks to her. To their horror, when he emerges, they are informed that they are to stay with their cold, stern and seemingly heartless grandmother for eight months. However, making their time slightly more bearable are their kooky aunt Bella, crook uncle Louie and strange aunt Gert.
Director Plante stays away from gimmicks and flashy tricks. Instead, she allows the story to speak for itself, punctuating it with just enough emotion, whether boisterous or sad, to get the most out of each moment. She is not afraid to take her time with each scene and action. The first time Grandma comes onto the stage, she walks so slowly and deliberately that, by the end, the audience is in just as much agony to see her as Jay and Arty.
The show has its own pace and correct timing is essential for its success. Luckily, the cast keeps up with the stride and delivers. Laurie Batstone as the simple Bella does a particularly good job, delivering her lines fluidly with the perfect sing-song quality one would except of a caring woman living mostly in her own world. She portrays a lovely innocence, yet infuses her character with strength and determination throughout.
Much of the play’s action revolves around the conflict between Grandma (played adeptly by Charlotte Stewart) and her children. There is an underlying bitterness toward the matriarch which boils over toward the end of the play, forcing her to painfully confront the damage she has inflicted on her children. It is a testament to Stewart’s considerable acting ability that Grandma goes from the most hated character in the play to one eliciting sympathy while still retaining the hardness of the character.
Lost in Yonkers is a human story that touches upon family and the importance of closeness. Ottawa Little Theatre’s production does the story justice. It is well worth going to see!