In the midst of a busy, predominately impressive fall theater season, the Dayton Theatre Guild has effortlessly produced another hit. One month after the luminous local premiere of “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” the Guild offers an outstanding production of Neil Simon’s 1991 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic comedy “Lost in Yonkers.”
A delightfully authentic staging tenderly helmed by Fran Pesch, “Yonkers,” set in 1942-43, charms and captivates as the Kurnitz clan of Yonkers, New York lovingly squabbles with a domineering, opinionated matriarch known for ruling with an iron fist. The fiercely resolute Grandma (exquisitely portrayed with astute perception by Barbara Jorgensen) particularly failed to show a great deal of love for her children, who often describe her as being made of steel due to her harsh German upbringing. Although no one can erase the hurtful feelings from years of emotional neglect, there is some sense that family wounds will continue to heal based on Grandma’s credo which values strength and survival. As she fittingly reminds her grandson, “It’s not so important that you hate me… It’s only important that you live.”
Jorgensen, as wonderful as she is, doesn’t have to carry the weight of this production on her shoulders. She is truly a key component within an ensemble, which allows her role to properly remain formidable and imposing without becoming overpowering. Philip Stock and Joel Daniel are equally and respectively terrific as Jay and Arty, whose coming-of-age journey under their grandmother’s guardianship frames the action. Perfectly cast as close-knit brothers trapped in a circumstance beyond their control for 10 months, Stock and Daniel endearingly embrace the bluntness, innocence and vulnerability within their colorful characters. Amy Diederich also shines as the incessantly chatty, childlike Bella, Jay and Arty’s doting aunt. Diederich’s superb delivery of Bella’s heartbreakingly poignant Act 2 monologue, in which she shares her desire to become a wife and have a family of her own, will bring tears to your eyes. Saverio Perugini, slick and shady, brings a cool, tough and intimidating edge to Louie, Jay and Arty’s gangster uncle. Rob Breving is nicely understated as Eddie, Jay and Arty’s father. Rachel Wilson delightfully portrays the audibly odd Gert, who prefers silence whenever possible.
In the Guild’s film hands, it’s a comfort to know “Lost in Yonkers” remains a splendid testament to the importance of legacy, unity and forgiveness as well as the invaluable maturity gained from lessons learned.
Lost in Yonkers continues through Nov. 6 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $11-$18. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org