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'Lost in Yonkers' review: Best Neil Simon

Marquez Catherine Stewart stars with Michael Ruggiero, center,

Marquez Catherine Stewart stars with Michael Ruggiero, center, and Sean Mannix in Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, through Feb. 2, 2013. Photo Credit: Theatre Three Productions

You'll be forgiven if you mistake Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" for an Arthur Miller play. It's been 20 years since the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning masterpiece by Broadway's (then) most bankable joke-meister closed. Every theater on Long Island staged it in the '90s. Except Theatre Three. Now Mary Powers has directed "Yonkers" with an appreciation of war's impact on family that we'd forgotten since World War II.

On this homey 1942 set by Randall Parsons, two teenage boys are left in the care of their grandmother when their widowed father hits the road to earn enough to pay off funeral debts. To the boys, played with natural charm by Sean Mannix and Michael Ruggiero, Grandma (Sue Anne Dennehy) is scarier than Hitler. Everyone raised by Grandma, including the boys' inexplicably normal father (Mark Cahill), regards her as a tyrant. Uncle Louie (Rob Schindlar) compensates by arming himself as a small-time gangster. Aunt Gert (Rebecca Riley) reflects the terror of her upbringing through a speech impediment. But no one suffers more than Bella, who's "not quite right." Marquez Catherine Stewart takes the role of Bella to levels I'm not sure even Simon envisioned.

When it opened in 1991, we assumed it was the temporary orphans who were "Lost in Yonkers." Thanks to Powers and Stewart's exquisite interpretation, we know see that Bella lost more than we can ever know. Instead of laugh lines, Simon's wisecracks become epiphanies.

WHAT "Lost in Yonkers"

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Jan. 24 and 31, 2 p.m. Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 2 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

INFO $15-$30;, 631-928-9100

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