Encore Michigan

Review: ‘Lost in Yonkers’ lands in Pinckney at The Dio

Review June 12, 2023 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, MI–Lost in Yonkers, a play written by Neil Simon, takes audiences on an emotional and captivating journey about family that is bound to leave a lasting impression. With its compelling characters, thought-provoking themes, and expertly crafted dialogue by one of the masters of the genre.

Set in the 1940s, the story revolves around Jay (Dylan Benson) and Arty (Vaan Otto), two young boys who are sent to live with their formidable and unconventional grandmother, Grandma Kurnitz (Olive Hayden-Moore), and their eccentric Aunt Bella (Luciana Piazza) in Yonkers, New York. As the boys navigate their new environment, they are exposed to a family dynamic plagued by secrets, challenges, and an undercurrent of love that is both complex and deeply moving.

One of the play’s greatest strengths lies in its richly developed characters. Each member of the Kurnitz family brings a unique perspective and contributes to the overall depth and authenticity of the story. From the stern but vulnerable Grandma Kurnitz to the mentally-impaired Aunt Bella, the performances are exceptional and add layers of complexity to the narrative. The character of Grandma may seem to some as a one-note character through most of the story, but Ms. Moore lights the character from within so you know her tough love is coming from a place of great and deep love and a strange sense of humor that maybe only she gets. Her stoicism comes from a place of great pain, both personal and physical. Bella is played heartbreakingly and deftly by a wonderful Ms. Piazza who in many ways is the real center of the story. Within the character’s limited mental acuity, Ms. Piazza nails the range of Bella’s growth as a person in the story and elicits a well of longing from the audience who can’t help but root for her to find some happiness and fulfillment.

Simon’s script is a testament to his ability to blend humor with poignant storytelling. The dialogue is witty, sharp, and filled with clever one-liners that elicit laughter from the audience. And some of the humor is totally dependent on timing and delivery, especially by Jay and Arty, and Director Steve DeBruyne gets the best from both actors. Mr. DeBruyne also plays Eddie, the boys’ widower father who is away for most of the play earning money to pay the doctor bills incurred by his late wife.

Beneath the humor lies a profound exploration of family dynamics, sacrifice, and the impact of one’s upbringing on personal growth. Lost in Yonkers balances these contrasting elements, creating a tapestry of emotions that keeps the audience engaged from start to finish.

The set design by Matthew Tomich, perfectly designed and executed without a crooked line anywhere on stage, and period costumes by Norma Polk, enhance the play’s authenticity, transporting the audience back to the 1940s with attention to detail. The stage is transformed into Grandma Kurnitz’s apartment, which becomes a central character in its own right, reflecting the family’s history and the weight of their experiences.

Donovan Leary does a solid job of delivering on the character of Louie, the boys’ uncle and their window into understanding what Grandma is really up to. He makes his money in somewhat sketchy ways, and in their father’s absence he is a refuge for the boys. Leary has the Yonkers accent and delivery down well without over-doing it. Amy Schumacher plays Aunt Gert. It’s a limited supporting role that the actress totally delivers on.

Lost in Yonkers is a period piece, set just as World War Two is getting going for the United States. But the themes of families sticking together at tough times after the loss of one of the parents, dealing with and loving a special-needs family member, poverty, oyalty, sacrifice—these are eternal themes that can affect any family in any era, and certainly do today.

Playing through July 9, Lost In Yonkers at The Dio Dining & Entertainment is a treat of great storytelling and wonderful performances. Go to the theatre’s website for tickets and show times.