The first time Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Lost in Yonkers played at Stage West Community Playhouse in 1997, it went on to win seven out of eight possible HAMI Awards in the "play" division of the theater's version of the Tonys, including Favorite Show.
The comedy-drama returns Thursday for seven performances in the theater's 159-seat venue, the Forum, the last in this season's slate of shows in that auditorium. Stage West's full season ends with the musical Funny Girl on the Main Stage May 5-15.
Despite a raft of awards — Drama Desk Award for Best New Play and Tony Award for Best Play, in addition to the Pulitzer — the 1990 play (and the subsequent movie version) has had mixed reviews. Either you love it, or you don't.
Stage West audiences loved it the first time around, in great part because of superb casting and outstanding directing by Saul Leibner, who has won seven HAMI Awards while at the helm of comedies and one drama.
The memory of that production presents a challenge to the upcoming show's director, Dan Brijbag, who started out at Stage West as an award-winning actor and has won still more accolades in recent years for his set, sound and light designs.
Brijbag, who played young Jay in the theater's first version of Yonkers, brings back HAMI winner Mollie Lutz to re-create the role of Grandma Kunitz, the mean, spiteful matriarch who orally and physically abuses anyone within the reach of her voice or walking cane.
Also in the cast is longtime professional and multi HAMI Award-winning actor Sam Petricone, who recently returned from Hollywood, where he played in many television shows and movies.
Lost in Yonkers takes place in 1942 in a dowdy, walk-up apartment, where the recently widowed Eddie Kunitz (Paul Nessler, HAMI for Gary in I Hate Hamlet) is parking his two sons while he goes on the road to make money to pay off a gang of hoods who loaned him money for his wife's hospital bills.
The boys — young Arty (Jacob Rice, Rising Star HAMI) and Jay (Jonathan Linstad, Feydka in Fiddler Junior) — try to dodge Grandma Kunitz's wrath and survive their stay with her as best they can.
They get sympathy from Aunt Bella (Victoria Primosch, HAMI as Tuptim in The King and I), the mentally slow woman who is Grandma's favorite target, and Aunt Gert (Sheryl Depp, Agnes in The Shadow Box), whose wheezing drives everyone crazy.
Everything comes to a head with the arrival of Uncle Louie (Petricone), a low-level gangster on the lam. Louie tries to give the boys advice and inadvertently gives Bella courage.
Yonkers is a mix of comedy and drama, with characteristic Neil Simon one-liners and colorful characters, though this seriously dysfunctional family is more dismaying than amusing.