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Myra Chanin

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Weird and Still Wonderfully Funny: Yonkers, a Town Still Well Worth Getting Lost in

Posted: 03/26/2012 2:32 pm

Comedy is weird. Laughter is a wonder. Comedy with a lower case c as found in Comedy Central is -- with the exception of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- is primarily a series of unconnected, undeleted expletives which have about a much staying power as one of your (maybe not yours, but my) grandmother's farts.

Comedy with a Capital C, as found in Theater, is an imaginary invalid who must be Jewish because she kvetches and kvetches but somehow never manages to die because the laughter produced is rooted in a blend of wit and pain.

A perfect example? Lost in Yonkers! The Neil Simon Pulitzer Prize Winning Masterpiece that has gotten even more touching and roar-out-loud funny in its current incarnation as edited and directed by Jenn Thompson at TACT.

What's TACT? It's an acronym for The Acting Company Theater, an off-Broadway group with discretion, sensitivity, delicacy, thoughtfulness, perception, insight, discernment and skill -- all synonyms for tact. TACT is a company of actors drawn together in 1992 by their love of the literature of theater. A true ensemble of veterans of stage, film and TV who have received Emmy, Obie, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk and awards and Tony nominations, TACT presents neglected or rarely produced plays of literary merit in the most professional way at a petite 99-seat, newly renovated, intimate, comfortable, easy to find, 42nd Street theater, where you feel like you're a part of the performance because no seat is further than seven rows away from the stage.

Back to the current TACT production of Lost in Yonkers, the play's first New York City revival in 20 years and even more wonderful than the original. TACT co-artistic director Jenn Thompson presents a closer to the heart version, having removed, with Neil Simon's approval, most of the voice-over transitions, which weren't significant.

The characters and the events in Lost in Yonkers have staying power. They are immortal. They tug at our feelings. Lost in Yonkers is about family and they don't come any more dysfunctional than this one. Eddie, (Dominic Comperatore) has just lost his wife to cancer, after borrowing money from loan sharks to keep her alive first and then comfortable. To repay his debt would have been impossible had not World War II given Eddie an opportunity to make real money via a job selling scrap metal in the southern US.

The down side? Eddie's job involves constant traveling so Eddie needs to leave his sons, the 13-year-old Jay (Matthew Gumley) and his 11-year-old brother Artie (Russell Posner) with someone because he can't take them with him. He only has one choice: His mother, Grandma Kurnitz (Cynthia Harris), a German Jewish refugee who lives in Yonkers and may be the meanest, coldest woman this side of Berlin because of the suffering in her own life. Grandma Kurnitz nurtured her children with criticism rather than love, are all three of Eddie's siblings are off-kilter emotionally -- Uncle Louis (Alec Beard), the small time gangster, Aunt Gert (Stephanie Cozart), who can't speak without gasping, and the really "is-she-actually-so-simpleminded" Aunt Bella, (Finnerty Steeves) who lives with her mother and deals with her mother's domination in a hardly simpleminded way.

All the performances are perfection, but Artie, as played by Russell Posner in his first theatrical venture, the stand-in for the real Neil Simon, gets the best lines in the show, which he delivers in an edgy, just-about-to-crack voice for a double wow.

The mixed audience -- young old, WASP, Jewish, Asian, rose as one to give the cast a well-deserved standing ovation. I saw Lost in Yonkers in previews but I noticed this morning that both The NY Post and The NY Times gave it rave reviews. If you're a New Yorker or planning to be in NY try to get tickets to this production. It will be two and a half hours that you'll remember with delight for a very long time.