Finding value in Neil Simon’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’ 

Among Neil Simon’s many facile, popular, easy-to-take plays, some are more lasting theatrical experiences.

Certain lines, situations and characters scattered along Simon’s hit parade of three-dozen comedies and dramas will likely survive well beyond his curious one-man Broadway hegemony that lasted several decades.

The 1991 “Lost in Yonkers” — onstage in a Jewish Theatre San Francisco production in association with the Eugene & Elinor Friend Center for the Arts at the Jewish Community Center — is one play with veins of gold.

Directed by Nancy Carlin and featuring an impressive cast, “Yonkers” starts slowly and tentatively and takes too much time to arrive at the point. But when it does, there are strong, memorable moments.

Jewish Theatre matriarch Naomi Newman plays the spine-chilling Grandma Kurnitz, at the center of a spectacularly dysfunctional Yonkers, N.Y., family during World War II.

She rules over everyone with the bottomless physical and psychological pain of a Berlin childhood, a frozen heart and unfeeling cruelty bordering on the sadistic.

In the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, she is seen through the eyes of teenage grandsons she is forced to “put up” in her home.

Zachary Frier-Harrison as Jay and Noah Silverman St. John as Arty not only hold their own against Newman’s overwhelming presence, but give performances both authentically youthful and dramatically mature.

As Bella — the “not stupid, not crazy, but childlike” Aunt Bella, long suffering under Grandma Kurnitz — Deb Fink is excellent.

The notable cast is rounded out by Greg Alexander as Eddie, the boys’ father dealing with a situation so grievous he must leave his sons in the home from which he escaped, and Soren Oliver as shady Uncle Louie, in jeopardy from gangsters.

The play follows an arch from comedy to drama to shades of Greek tragedy, until a resolution made to resemble — not entirely successfully — a happy ending. Straightforward direction and good performances carry the day.


Lost in Yonkers

Presented by The Jewish Theatre San Francisco

Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., San Francisco

8 p.m. today-Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

$20 to $39

Contact: (415) 292-1233,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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