Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers Review - Northlight Theatre production is a must see!

What happens when a young father, flat broke after giving everything to treat his wife's cancer, drops his young teenage boys into the middle of his domineering and tyrannical mother's carefully orchestrated and lonely life in the apartment above the candy and ice cream shop she runs? That's the premise of Lost in Yonkers, the Pulitzer Prize winning Neil Simon play which opened at Northlight Theatre in Skokie on May 9.

Eddie with sons Arty and Jay

Eddie, brought to life by Timothy Edward Kane in his return to Northlight, is desperate. He has no money, having spent it all to care for his wife who died of cancer. Even worse, he is indebted to a loan shark for $9,000 and has to find a way to pay it back. As luck would have it, the world is at war, and scrap metal is selling at a premium. "Scrap metal? I thought it was just scrap." says Eddie, before being offered a job selling the stuff all across the South.

Swallowing his fears of his mother, a hardened, angry woman whose first instinct was to punish, never to love--he leaves his own motherless boys under her care to pursue a profit from war-time industry. But the story isn't about Eddie as much as it is viewing this life shift through the eyes of 15 1/2 year old Jay and 13 1/2 year old Arty.

Arty and Jay move in

Alistair Sewell (Jay) and Sebastian Weigman (Arty) are perfectly cast as Eddie's teen sons. Having had their lives upended by their mother's death, they are despairing at being left behind with this woman they barely know and yet fiercely protective of their father and understanding of his anguish at the choice he has to make. Both young actors expertly convey the forced maturity that comes to those who experience a loss at such a young age.

Willing to do what they have to do to support their father, they find themselves working in the ice cream shop after school and befriending their Aunt Bella, who Linsey Page Morton plays to perfection in her Northlight debut.

Bella, Arty and Jay

Bella obviously has some challenges, which though unnamed are probably what we know as intellectual disabilities today. True to the times, family members with disabilities were either shuttled off to "the home" (some institution or other) or kept mostly out of sight with their own families. Bella stays at home with her mother, cooking and cleaning and working in the shop. Though Grandma tells her she's a child and will always be a child, we see Bella mature before our very eyes. She grows from someone who is perpetually lost and confused into someone who takes on the mother she fears to assert herself and express her need to give and receive the love she never got growing up.

Arty and Jay with Uncle Lou

And Uncle Louie, played by Jeff Award nominated Erik Hellman in his Northlight debut "may be a henchman"--but during the course of the play he grows from a self-absorbed hoodlum who has "never not been in trouble" to someone who learns to see outside himself far enough to discourage his nephew Jay from choosing the path he's chosen.

Bella and Grandma

Grandma herself is not immune from the changes happening all around during the many months Jay and Arty are with her. Ann Whitney returning to Northlight as Grandma, owns this role. She portrays the subtle shift from a war-wounded, hardened woman who not only refuses to show fear or weakness but demands the same in others to one who realizes that by cutting herself off from the love of her family the only one she is hurting is herself.

Jay and Arty's heart, soul and youthful exuberance lift Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers into a place where we can see pieces of ourselves and our families and leave with hope that we too, can change into better, kinder versions of ourselves.

Lost in Yonkers runs through June 8, 2014 at the Northlight Theatre, housed at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL. Box office 847-673-6300; Northlight website . Tickets $25-$75. Student tickets $15.

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