Months ago, I went to my second ever audition, having taken a few months to slowly but surely get over the trauma that was my FIRST audition. Yes, I was ready to get back on that acting horse, and the new audition went purty well. I even made callback, and had lotsa good fun playing off some of the other folks who were also brought back. Ultimately I didn’t get cast, but I still felt pretty good about it, all things being equal, and decided based on what I’d seen from the other actors in the callback that I was for sure going to catch this show when it finally arrived.
Well, it’s finally finally, and that show, Neil Simon’s LOST IN YONKERS at the Ottawa Little Theatre, has arrived. And I’m happy to report that I’m honestly and truly NOT a sore loser, as I was right there on opening night to see what Director Chantal Plante had done with the show. Set in Yonkers, NY at the outset of WWII, it tells the tale of the spectacularly flawed Kurnitz clan, trying to find some joy in their lives against all odds. And by ‘all odds’, I mean Grandma. Our tale starts with Jay and Arty, two feisty kids played with hi-energy and definite moxie (ask Uncle Louie) by Thomas Nyhuus and Ven Djukic. Their down-on-his-luck Dad (Bob Hicks, beautifully human as the desperate, emotional Eddie) has to leave town for a whole year, and is leaving the kids in the home of his dreaded Mother and slow but sweet sister Bella.
Bella is the childlike heart of YONKERS, a 35 year-old woman who looks to Jay and Arty, barely in their teens, for support as she strives to wend her way in the world. And she’s just wonderfully brought to life by Laurie Batstone, giggling and charming her way across the stage with infectious delight. That is, when she’s not cowering from the imperious matriarch of the clan, Grandma. A hard-as-nails survivor through and through, Charlotte Stewart’s intimidating Grandma Kurnitz makes her entrance onto the stage like Godzilla invading a small town. You know she’s coming, and you’re terrified, but there’s nowhere to run. And it’s great to watch. Rounding out the terrific cast are Tara Berish, doing a little classic scene-stealing as respiratorily-challenged Aunt Gert, and a bombastic John Collins as tough-guy Uncle Louie, merrily chewing the scenery (or intimidating it into looking away).
The script is fast and funny, peppered with some particularly sharp one-liners that the cast for the most part nails, and when the tale turns to the heavy stuff, it never feels forced…it flows, just like it should. Batstone and Stewart particularly shine in a memorable sitting-room confrontation in Act Two. And Nyhuus and Djukic as plucky Jay and Arty manage the tough task of anchoring the entire production splendidly. I KNEW them kids were the goods when I met them at the audition…glad I was right.
The set is of the usual spiffy OLT quality, and designer Paul Gardner and lighting guru David Magladry deserve special props for the clever gimmick used to deliver Eddie’s letters to Jay and Arty…trust me, it’s pretty cool. YONKERS is probably the most fun I’ve had at the OLT yet, and that’s saying something. Congrats to the cast and crew for a great show. And while I’m sorry I didn’t manage to get into the cast, I’m VERY glad I got to see it. You should too. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)