Review: Lost in Yonkers (Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company)

Family relations and mental health issues are explored in Lost in Yonkers at Toronto’s Jane Mallet Theatre

Having grown up with older siblings, I’d revel in the joys of popular reruns, starting with my all time favorite, Happy Days. You can imagine how thrilled I was to be seeing the adorable and maternal “Mrs. C” in the upcoming role of Grandma Kurnitz in the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s current production of  Lost in Yonkers.

Neil Simon’s timeless story playing at the Jane Mallet theatre combines an enduring script, great acting and some touching and comical moments.The play opens with an amusing scene between brother’s Jay and Arty in their grandmother’s New York apartment in the 1940s. Jay and Arty, recently dealing with the death of their mother, soon learn that their father played by David Eisner, after having incurred financial debt, must leave them with none other but their estranged grandmother.

Grandmother Kurnitz has her own demons to deal with, having grown up in Berlin, Germany in difficult times, undoubtedly leaving her bitter and resentful.

Alessandro Costantini as Jay and Jesse Shimko as Arty share great chemistry as siblings, playing off one another with good comedic timing. Their New York accents are well produced and their characters are believable. Both Costantini and Shimko show charming sibling dynamics and are able to hold their own.

Marion Ross, certainly well in her eighties now, well-embodies the cold, undemonstrative, rigid grandmother Kurnitz. Walking with her crippled foot and cane in hand, Ross creates for us a very different character than the iconic one we grew up with.

Within the span of ten months, Jay and Arty learn more about their eccentric self-proclaimed ‘gangster’ uncle Louie, along with their live-in aunt Bella destined to be her mother’s caregiver.

Uncle Louie’s first scene with the boys was humorous as they cuddle together into the pull out bed. Ari Cohen as Louie is just as vibrant and colourful as Aunt Bella’s big personality.

Aunt Bella played by Finnerty Steeves is phenomenal and a standout in this production. She beautifully captures the child-like vulnerability and energy of Bella making her lovable and human.

The scene in Act two where Bella reveals her future plans was both comical and heartbreaking. It is here that Aunt Bella and Grandmother Kurnitz share poignant monologues.

At the same time, we meet Aunt Gert, played by Sheila McCarthy. Although a brief appearance, McCarthy gives us a memorable role as the sweet, meek and mild-mannered Aunt Gert so afraid to speak, she can hardly breathe.

The setting created by Sue LePage was realistic. Jim Warren’s direction allows the characters to use the space freely. They make entrances and exits from various doorways pivotal moments. Lori Hickling’s costume designs were detailed and could have spanned a few decades.

As my guest and I left the theatre we talked about the universality of this piece. It can relate to any family. Every mother has a story to tell and like it or not, most have quite an impact on who we become as adults.

With its everlasting themes of family relations and mental health, coupled with impressive acting performances, Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s Lost in Yonkers creates for us a charming and moving production.


Lost in Yonkers will be playing at the Jane Mallet Theatre (27 Front Street East)till June 10th, 2012 .

– Performances run at Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday at8pm and Sunday  at2pm

-Tickets range from $42.50-79.50 (plus HST/service charges)

-Tickets can be purchased by calling 416-366-7723 or online at group discounts, call The Group Tix Company at 647-438-5559, toll free 1-8664477849 or online