The dysfunctional Kurnitz family will tug on heartstrings and trigger laughter in Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Lost in Yonkers,” running March 9 to 25 at the Players Guild of Dearborn.
The show runs 8 p.m. March 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24, and 2:30 p.m. March 11, 18 and 25 at the theater, 21730 Madison in Dearborn.
Set in 1942, two young teen boys are left with their grandmother after their mother dies of cancer, while their father takes a traveling sales job to pay off the staggering medical debts he owes to a loan shark. His mother, with whom he has been estranged, is a stern immigrant woman, who has had a rough life, and who has little patience for the “weaknesses” of others.
Living with their grandmother is their Aunt Bella, who is mentally challenged, but who longs for independence. Other family members include their Uncle Louie, who is hiding from the local mob, and their Aunt Gert, who reacts with nervous ticks whenever around Grandmother Kurnitz.
Director Kim Donovan of Farmington Hills said working a Pulitzer Prize-winning script makes it easy for the actors to bring their characters to life.
“An actor doesn’t have to look for motivation – the dialogue guides them,” she said. “The characters in this show may have their weird quirks, but they are still very human.”
She said Simon’s script is inspiring, and the emotions he evokes will have audiences laughing through their tears.
“This beautiful story, about a family pulling together to support each other during the difficult times of 1942, captures the humor and heart of a family trying to survive its own dysfunction,” Donovan said. “As the boys interact with all the different family members, we see layers and backstories being revealed, and each character grows in some way by the end of the story.”
Donovan said her talented cast has built a strong production.
“When a cast works so well together, beautiful things happen,” she said. “I hope everyone falls in love with this family as much as I have.”
The children in the cast include Nate Hermen as Jacob (“Jay”) Kurnitz and Forrest Gabel as Arthur (“Arty”) Kurnitz.
The adults in the cast include Mark Rosati of Allen Park as Louie Kurnitz; Maria Kovac McEmeel of Canton Township as Bella Kurnitz; Julie Ballantyne Brown of Dearborn as Aunt Gert; Mark Nathanson of Franklin as Eddie Kurnitz; and Sue DeLosier of Lincoln Park as Grandma Kurnitz.
DeLosier said she is fascinated by the depths of the story line and the challenges of playing Grandma Kurnitz.
“My character, an older immigrant woman, has had a very hard life and is filled with anger,” she said. “She has alienated her children, and each one has been damaged by their relationship.”
DeLosier said that even with all of its drama, the show is very funny.
“This is one of Neil Simon’s finest shows,” she said. “He is brilliant. As the audience leaves, I hope they are talking about how funny the show was, how they were so touched at times they were crying, and how good it makes them feel to see the family members in the show grow and change.”
Tickets are $18. To order, call 313-561-TKTS or go to playersguildofdearborn.org.
OBTC’s ‘VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE’ IS CLEVER, ENTERTAINING AND LAUGHTER-FILLED
Dysfunctional siblings seem to be a recurrent, successful comedic theme, to which many can relate, as the Open Book Theatre Company continues its run of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
While Vanya, Sonia and Masha – siblings named after Chekhov characters by their professorial parents – seem to mirror the neurotic nature of their literary inspirations, knowledge of Chekhov is not necessary to enjoy the entertaining interactions of the dysfunctional trio. Add in a boy toy named Spike, with more brawn than brains; Cassandra, a prophetic cleaning woman with a penchant for voodoo; and Nina, a pretty young neighbor who aspires to become a serious actress, and you have a fast-paced, clever show.
Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2013, continues its run at 8 p.m. March 3, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17, and 2 p.m. March 4 and 18, with a post show discussion with the company March 4, at the Open Book Theatre Company, 1621 West Road in Trenton.
Vanya and Sonia are two jobless adults who, after caring for their late parents, still live in their childhood home, now owned by their sister Masha, a film star, who pays all the bills. When Masha arrives home with a flurry of drama and a sexy boy toy, tempers rise and arguments ensue.
Capably directed by Angie Kane Ferrante of Northville, the cast features Lindel Salow of Dearborn as Vanya, Connie Cowper of Rochester Hills as Sonia, Alexis Barrera of Howell as Cassandra, Wendy Katz Hiller of Ann Arbor as Masha, Kyle Kelley of Niles as Spike and Anna Doyle of Detroit as Nina.
Salow and Cowper are very funny as a pair of siblings stuck in a rut who know how to push each other’s buttons, and who at the same time prevent each other from succumbing to their insecurities.
They are funniest when having a rapid fire argument with each other, and Salow’s soliloquy against cell phones is hysterically funny.
Hiller is hysterical as the aging actress worried about losing her youth, creative edge, and boy toy. As a credit to her versatility, she is concurrently playing a very different character, Mrs. Van Daan, in the Jewish Ensemble Theater’s school matinees of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Barrera’s physical flexibility, expressive face, and entertaining antics as a wacky cleaning woman who seems as surprised as everyone else when her prophecies come true is a hoot. She can make audiences laugh just by the way she enters a room.
Doyle, in the ingenue role, is everything we don’t expect from a character playing a pretty young thing – she is wise and caring as opposed to bubble-brained and shallow, and represents the youth and better qualities most of us still wish we possessed.
Spike is also young – but he is shallow, clueless and not-so-bright. His character, while seemingly harmless through most of the play, exits with the unkindest cut. Kelley brings him to life without making him a dumb jock stereotype, and audiences will actually like his character throughout most of the play.
Tickets are $20, with a $5 discount for students and seniors. To order, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.
JET PRESENTS ‘THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK’
The Jewish Ensemble’s annual production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which runs school matinees for several weeks each year for area school groups, splits its run this year between the JET and the Detroit Institute of Arts, where it will also offer a public weekend show 7 p.m. March 11 at the DIA Auditorium, 5200 Woodward, Detroit.
Reprising their roles for a third year are Taylor Johnson of Ferndale as Anne Frank; Michael Suchyta of Dearborn as Peter Van Daan; Ann Arbor residents Wendy Katz Hiller as Mrs. Van Daan, and Andrew Parker as Otto Frank; Linda Ramsay-Detherage of Commerce Township as Edith Frank; Fred Buchalter of Farmington Hills as Mr. Van Daan; and Katie Galazka of Hamtramck as Miep Gies. Returning for a second year are Meredith Deighton as Margo Frank and Dennis Kleinsmith as Mr. Dussel.
For more information, call 248-788-2900 or go to jettheatre.org/the-diary-of-anne-frank.