AUBURN – It is standing ovation time for the seven-member cast of “Lost in Yonkers,” the Neil Simon play currently on the Community Little Theatre stage.
Comedy is usually the label that goes on Simon’s shows. This one has the trademark one-liners, but they support a story with depth and compassion.
Everyone in the Kurnitz family seems to have wandered off on different paths as they become “Lost in Yonkers.” This is an excellent Simon play that’s continuing Thursday through Sunday, June 26-28. All seven members of the Community Little Theatre cast for this Neil Simon draw us into their individual characters.
The strength of this production is in the variety of ways the men, women and children of the Kurnitz family deal with unintentionally inflicted scars from the coldness of a domineering matriarch.
Michelle Vazguez Jacobus, a teacher at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College, makes a remarkable stage debut as Bella, the aunt with a childlike determination to find the love she never saw in her mother. Her performance is right on target. In movement and speech, she becomes the slow-witted woman in her thirties who yearns for attention and finally reaches an understanding of her personal empowerment.
The cast ranges from two teenaged boys to a grandmother, and the father, aunts and uncle who shared the intimidation of their German mother. The experience shaped each differently, and that diversity has been developed to its fullest under the direction of Dick Rosenberg.
Duane Glover delivers charming brashness as Uncle Louie, the small-time gangster and mob henchman who has some valuable life-lessons for nephews Jay and Artie.
There are lots of laughs in the exchanges between Glover and the two young actors. Glover is convincing, and great fun, as a reluctant role model with a shoulder holster.
Two local high-school students move the story along through the several months they must stay with their domineering grandmother.
Jay, in his mid-teens, is the older of the boys. Duncan Gelder, an Edward Little High School sophomore, gives a fine performance as this youth who is just beginning to grasp the complexities of life and its accompanying responsibilities.
Artie, not yet out of his buckle-below-the-knee pants, is played by Ben Dostie, a freshman at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. He gives his role just the right combination of early-teen exuberance and confusion about the adult world he is witnessing.
Both of the boys have considerable acting experience. They handle their pivotal parts in “Lost in Yonkers” with skill.
Muriel Kenderdine’s portrayal of hard-as-steel Grandma Kurnitz is quiet on the surface, but stories about her dreaded cane and her unyielding lessons in survival at all costs are repeated over and over.
Slowed by age, it’s clear that her methods of intimidation still carry weight. It’s her legendary toughness that gives her continuing power over each person in the family.
Kenderdine will be remembered for her role as Ethel opposite Rosenberg in CLT’s production of “On Golden Pond” a few years ago.
Jeff Taber is the boys’ father, Eddie Kurnitz. He is forced to bring the boys to live with their grandmother so he can accept a war-time job as a traveling scrap metal salesman. He has to pay off a loan shark for money he borrowed for medical bills when his wife was dying of cancer.
Every Kurnitz family member has a specific trait, and Eddie’s is integrity.
Although Louie ridiculed his brother’s apparent weakness, Eddie earned everyone’s respect.
The father is on stage only at the beginning and the end, and his letters are heard throughout the play, but they are critical scenes that Taber plays with skill and compassion.
Tami Burhoe has a small role as Aunt Gert. She makes the most of the comic possibilities in her gasping speech impediment that’s triggered whenever she must visit and deal with the stresses of her mother.
Burhoe does well with her return to stage for the first time since high school 15 years ago.

WHAT: “Lost in Yonkers”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 26-27; and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 28
WHERE: Great Falls Performing Arts Center, 30 Academy St., Auburn
TICKETS: visit laCLT.com or call 783-0958


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