By Bob Goepfert, Troy Record Review
LATHAM —Curtain Call Theater just opened its new Latham theater with the Neil Simon play, “Lost in Yonkers”. It’s hard to say which is more impressive - the space or the production. Both are great.
The space at 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane in Latham might just be the best place in the Capital District to experience theater. With only 139 seats, it’s as intimate as it is comfortable. The seats are generous in size, the sightlines are perfect, and - there is plenty of parking.
This production is a perfect marriage of space and material. Just as the theater is comfortable, so is the production. “Lost in Yonkers” is an enjoyable and thoughtful play about the need for an individual to feel loved. It won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award in 1991, and seems as fresh today as it did then.
However, without laughter it could be a dreary experience about dysfunction. Instead, it is a charming work that offers insight into human behavior.
The humor in the play, which is set in the early 1940s, comes from experiencing the situation through the eyes of two teenage boys. They are left to live with a stern grandmother while their father, in order to pay his deceased wife’s hospital bills, takes a well-paying job that requires extensive travel throughout the south.
Grandma is a tough German immigrant who believes that firm discipline is the only way to raise children. Sentiment and caring is akin to coddling and no child has ever been coddled in her house. Her emotionally damaged adult children are proof of that.
Jay is 15 and Artie is 13 and they immediately understand that living with Grandma Kurnitz is going to be a life-changing experience. Kevin Zuchowski as Jay and Micah Juman as Arty are each delightful. They are wise beyond their years, but never speak as wise guys. Their innocence makes funny their observations about their plight and the other family members. The comic timing the two young actors have mastered at such an early age has you dreaming of a day in the future when they are paired in Simon’s other masterpiece – “The Odd Couple.”
The kids provide the humor, but the heart and soul of the play is the relationship between Bella and Grandma. Bella is 35, single and living at home. She is mentally-challenged with an IQ lower than either Jay or Artie. However, she has the physical needs and desires of a mature woman. Kathleen Carey is absolutely wonderful in the role as she makes Bella’s disability charming without depreciating the woman’s inherent intelligence.
Carey makes it clear this adorable woman needs to be loved more than she needs to be protected from the outside world. She is so endearing that even her accent, which sometimes sounds as if it would be more at home in Fenway Park than in Yankee Stadium, adds a touch of gentleness to her portrayal of this kind, caring and sort-of desperate woman.
Sometimes it would seem the best an actor might do with Grandma Kurnitz is to not make her hateful. Without depreciating the woman’s harshness, Carol Charniga is able to suggest, while the woman’s methods might be cruel, her intentions are for the best. Charniga is perfect as she shows it is hard to hate a woman who is tough and demanding because she wants to protect her children from the same pain she endured.
“Lost in Yonkers” finds its joy by showing the loyalty family members have for each other. As she did with “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” another Simon play she directed at Curtain Call Theatre, Nan Mullenneaux’s direction is excellent on every level, but it is especially distinguished as she accentuates the affection and caring that all family members share with each other.
This is demonstrated most clearly in the supporting roles. Steve Leifer is caring as the broken and broke father. Kevin Barhydt is outstanding as Uncle Louie, a gangster who offers his nephews sage advice about life and the mistakes that can be made. Pamela O’Conner is strong in the brief time on stage as the breath-impaired Aunt Gert.
Set, costumes and lighting all contribute to an auspicious opening for Curtain Call’s season in its new space. You’ll enjoy it.
“Lost in Yonkers” at Curtain Call Theatre at 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham, through October 7. For tickets and schedule information call 518-877-7529, or go to www.curtaincalltheatre.com.
Cast rises to occasion in Neil Simon play
Matthew G. Moross/For The Daily Gazette | September 11, 2017
LATHAM — On a hot summer night in a stifling apartment over a candy store in Yonkers in 1942, teen-age brothers Jay (Kevin Zuchowski) and Artie (Micah Juman) anxiously await the outcome of a hushed private meeting between their recently widowed dad and their gorgon of a grandmother (Carol Charniga) that is taking place in the next room.
Having recently lost their mother to cancer, the boys’ dad, Eddie (Steven Leifer), has just found a job to alleviate the debt of the hospital bills incurred by their mother’s illness. But the job will require him to travel for almost a year. Eddie is hoping his mother will take care of Jay and Artie while he’s away.
To say that Grandma isn’t too happy about this request may be an understatement. And Jay and Arty aren’t very pleased about this proposed living arrangement either.
Why? This woman who raised their fearful and emotionally frightened dad Eddie, and his dysfunctional and damaged siblings; a petty thug and thief, Louie (Kevin Barhydt), the wheezy and truckling Gert (Pamela O’Connor) and the simple and child-like Bella (Kathleen Carey), may not be the best of babysitters.
Winner of almost every major award when it first premiered in 1990, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” is arguably Simon’s most masterful play.
Rich with heart, Simon weaves his comic gifts into and around a poignant story of loss and longing, and the power of how those emotions can trap and damage. Not strictly as autobiographical as the playwright’s “Brighton Beach Trilogy,” it’s a bit surprising that this play feels his most authentic.
These characters are richly human, drawn with huge scars and baggage and the playwright beautifully balances the wounds and foibles with humor that never oversteps.
Sensitively directed by Nan Mullenneaux, the production at Curtain Call Theater has assembled a terrific cast of seasoned veterans mixed in with a couple of great up-and-comers.
Charniga manages well to draw the rigid, miserly, emasculating Grandma Kurnitz away from cliché and cartoon, allowing the audience a peek into where those defense mechanisms manifested.
Barhydt gives Louie the right amount of bravado and swagger to impress his nephews but doesn’t disguise the truth. His act-two square-off with Charniga smolders with just the right amount of heat.
O’Connor and Leifer beautifully reveal their characters emotional scars — O’Connor with deft humor and Leifer with subtle scarred pain. Blessed with great comic timing and an innate gift on how to set up a joke, Juman and Zuchowski play off each other like a pair of old Vaudevillians each landing the characters’ comic lines perfectly. Yet never betraying Jay and Arty’s fear of what the future holds for each.
Both offer performances that predict a fine future on the stage for each young actor.
With Bella, Simon has written a brilliant and complex character. Upbeat, yet beaten, positive, yet mindful of what her future may hold, Bella’s awareness and fear of her limitations never overwhelm her innocence, and Carey succeeds in spades. Beaming and blissful with the simplest of Bella’s joys,
Carey becomes fierce when she finally confides her most wanted hope and wish. Bella’s act-two confrontation with her mother is expertly handled by Carey and Charniga and is one of the evening’s highlights. Added to the success of this production is Curtain Call’s new theater space. Spacious and comfortable, Peter and Carol Max have created a gem of a venue. Intimate yet spacious, it’s well designed and appointed — and has a lot of parking! Go see “Lost in Yonkers” — and the new venue — doubtful you’ll be disappointed.
‘Lost in Yonkers’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 2 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Through Oct. 7
HOW MUCH: $27.50
MORE INFO:518-877-7529 www.curtaincalltheatre.com
Carol Max opens 17th season with 'Lost in Yonkers'
By Bill Buell September 7, 2017 Daily Gazette
Finally, Carol Max will tell you, she has a theater venue she's totally comfortable with.
The founder and artistic producer of Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, Max will be celebrating the troupe's 25th season this month in its new home at 2 Jeanne Jugan Lane, also in Latham, with a production of Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers." The Dutch Reformed Church on Old Loudon Road in Latham had been CC's home for 17 years, and before that Max produced live theater at the Temple Gates of Heaven in Niskayuna (1998-99), the Albany Marriott (1995-97) and the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs (1993-94).
"This was an opportunity that came to us at the perfect time," said Max, whose new theater, the former home to the Little Sisters of the Poor, has been vacant since 2014. "We've been listening to our patrons, and the last five or six years they've had some issues with our venue that we just couldn't fix."
Those problems, such as a small lobby and a smaller backstage area, have been erased with the move to 2 Jeanne Jugan Lane. The building is what was the sanctuary for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and while it may have been a better venue than the church without any alterations, Max and her husband Peter have been busy with a construction crew redoing all of the interior.
"We're only about a half-mile down the street from where we were and we have a bigger parking lot, we're going to be able to get people in and seated a lot quicker, and the actors are going to love the dressing rooms and the backstage area," said Max. "People are going to love the new theater seats and we're going to have more than one restroom. We're very excited about the new place, and I'm sure our patrons are going to love it as well."
Nan Mullenneaux, a Slingerlands native, Bethlehem Central graduate and currently a professor of gender studies and academic writing at Duke University in North Carolina, is directing her second show at Curtain Call, having done "Brighten Beach Memoirs" at the church last season.
"I love the new space because it's aesthetically beautiful and practical, and there's not a bad seat in the house," said Mullenneaux, who got her doctorate at the University of Albany. "It's a very generous theater for the patrons because in most places they really try to squeeze people in, but Carol has sacrificed some seats for comfort. And the setup for the actors is great. They're going to love it."
Mullenneaux's cast consists of Kevin Barhydt, Kathleen Carey, Carol Charniga, Micah Juman, Steve Leifer, Pam O'Connor and Kevin Zuchowski. "Lost in Yonkers" premiered on Broadway in 1991, and along with winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it also earned four Tony Awards, including Best Play.
"Neil Simon has the ability to find humor in the everyday life of people, and it never becomes farcical," said Mullenneaux. "He also weaves it into a very compelling and dramatic family story. You're laughing in one scene and crying in the next. In my opinion, 'Lost in Yonkers' is probably his most mature work."
Along with being a director, Mullenneaux has also performed onstage at various places around the region, including Capital Rep and Theater Voices in Albany, and Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, Vermont. She is a member of Actors Equity and the Screen Actors Guild, and has always had an interest in history. While working at the Saratoga Battlefield, she performed a one-woman show about Baroness Frederika Charlotte von Riedesel, the wife of the popular German General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel, who fought on the side of Great Britain during the American Revolution.
"I've always loved history, and being involved in the theater is still telling stories," said Mullenneau, who got her doctorate in history at UAlbany in 2009. "Acting has helped me overcome my general shyness. I love directing, but I still enjoy acting and plan to keep my hand in it."
'Lost in Yonkers'
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 2 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Oct. 7; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO:www.curtaincalltheatre.com or (518) 877-7529