A title can make all the difference. Neil Simon might’ve considered “Bonkers in Yonkers” for his 1991 play, still listed by the licensing agency Samuel French as a “dramatic comedy.” Instead, he went with “Lost in Yonkers” for his memory play that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Regarded as the finest work by America’s most successful comic playwright of the 20th century, “Lost” followed his “BB” trilogy of semi-autobiographicals — “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” — that proved Simon was more than a gifted gag writer.
“Lost in Yonkers” takes us back to the World War II homefront in a finely crafted re-enactment directed by George Loizides for the Hampton Theatre Company. The Quogue-based troupe specializing in drawing-room plays — often reflecting Hamptons-scale affluence — goes downscale with a doily- and throw-laced living room set by Peter-Tolin Baker, time-of-day lit by Sebastian Paczynski and dressed in Teresa LeBrun’s vintage costumes. The Yonkers apartment, ironically perched atop a candy store, becomes the temporary home of two nice Jewish boys left behind by their father so that he can go on the road for the war effort to repay $9,000 in cancer-treatment loans that couldn’t save his wife.
Almost more frightening than to lose their dad for a year so soon after losing their mom forever is the prospect of living with their tyrannical grandmother, played with a severe case of survivor’s guilt by Diana Marbury. Grandma Kurnitz, who buried a husband and two children, has no room in her life for hugs or humor. Marbury captures Grandma’s self-inflicted wounds with a bitterness that evokes grudging pity. The boys — Christopher Darrin as disarmingly clever Arty and protectively scheming Jamie Baio as big bro Jay — engagingly reflect the relationship Simon penned for himself and his real-life elder Danny.
Beyond their timid dad (Russell Weisenbacher), his siblings’ maternal-inflicted pain is brought to life in disparate forms through Louie, Edward Kassar’s wisecracking gangster bagman, who out-toughs everyone but Mama, and Catherine Maloney as Gert, so afraid to speak around Mama that she inhales the end of each sentence. But no one suffers Mama’s tyranny more than Bella. A child in a woman’s body, Bella, crushingly vibrant and vexed as played by Rebecca Edana, most reflects the affliction of the Kurnitz curse.
For a viscerally emotional realization of Neil Simon’s masterpiece, don’t miss HTC’s “Lost.”