Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“Lost in Yonkers” is well-done, quality theater

TCR - Walk into Theatre Cedar Rapids Lindale for Lost in Yonkers and be prepared to be transported back in time. The real achievement of this piece is the work of the designers and crew who made this stage space look and feel like an upstairs New York apartment in the 1940s.

Neil Simon’s play is a simple story about two young boys (Alex Schulte and Nathan Kent) left in the care of their stern Grandmother (Cheryl Moon Thomason) during WWII. Grandma happens to own and operate a first-floor candy store, and lives in an apartment above the store. Also living in the apartment with Grandma is her slow and childlike daughter Bella (Nicolette Coiner-Winn), who spends much of her time at the movies to escape life under Grandma’s rule.

Grandma’s other natural children (Bill Lammers and Carrie Fattig) wander in and out of the space throughout the play. And her sensitive son, Eddie (David Morton) shows up with the boys at the opening of the play to leave them in her care. Through the young boys’ eyes we get a good look at all of these characters, and how each individual character has their own difficult relationship with ice-cold Grandma.

The set designed by Bret Gothe is a beautiful piece of work. The dark woods, period furniture, high ceilings and strategically placed doilies add to the look and feel of a house dominated by a stern, elderly matriarch. This is an “everything-in-its-place” kind of home, which only adds fuel to the comedy fire when two young boys are thrown into the mix. Actors Alex Schulte and Nathan Kent are both very comfortable on stage, Schulte especially seems to have mastered very early the comic doubletake. He is a joy to watch react and discover tiny moments within a scene.

Director Jason Alberty does a fine job of moving the piece along. David Morton, as Eddie, the boys’ father, is adept at milking the comedy moments out of the play, as he spends the first scene darting in and out of Grandma’s intimidating bedroom, while the two boys cause much commotion in the living room. I so enjoyed watching him blow his top with the boys, run over to the Grandma’s bedroom, stop, think, and then totally readjust his entire being before he opens the door.

The Neil Simon comedy works best when it moves to drama. There are some beautiful moments as Grandma melts, the boys mature and Bella has a heartfelt moment in the second act. Although I’ve seen Bella’s breakdown done better on other stages, I certainly can recommend the work of these fine actors and designers.

Lost in Yonkers is a great way to spend an evening. See the play Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 19, 20, 21, at 7:30 p.m.; or Sunday, February 22 at 2:30 p.m., at TCR Lindale, 4444 1st Ave. NE (across from Lindale Mall). Tickets are $20 or $25 ($15 for students) and can be purchased by phone at 319-366-8591 or online. Rush tickets are available at the door for $10 half an hour before the start of each show. A “Talkback Thursday” discussion will be held following the February 19 performance.

--Sammy Sanders

Sammy Sanders is a freelance writer living in Cedar Rapids. He is an avid theater fan and classic car enthusiast. His reviews and stories have appeared in several local publications including City Revealed.

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