Syliva Veith as Grandma, left, is confronted by Shelley Cherkis who plays her mentally challenged daughter, in a scene from the upcoming New Depot Players production of “Lost in Yonkers.” Other cast members include Devin Bacon as Louie, Andrew Fish as Arty, Vanessa Outlaw as Gert, Dillon Diamond as Jay and Tom Johnson as Eddie. Directed by Weldon Durham, “Lost in Yonkers” opens Thursday, Oct. 10. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
Playwright Neil Simon is well known for comedies, like the “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot in the Park,” and while those works have their merits, they don’t match the depth of his work, “Lost in Yonkers,” said Weldon Durham, a Covington resident who is directing an upcoming production of the play.
The 1991 comic drama won both a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award.
“He’s very good at the very droll, the very quick-witted, but here (in ‘Lost in Yonkers’) he’s written in some ways a much more literary piece that is thematically organized, not just organized around the foolishness of a bunch of people and the funny things they do to get out of their situations,” said Durham, who taught drama at the college level for over 30 years and included “Lost in Yonkers” in his New American Theater course.
“I came to like ‘Lost in Yonkers’ and admire it. It’s far and away Neil Simon’s best play and very different from anything he’d ever written before.”
“Lost in Yonkers,” directed by Durham for the New Depot Players, opens this week and runs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10 to 12 and 17 to 19, and at 3 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 20. Tickets are $20, and $16 for seniors 60 and over and students with ID. The play is performed at Center Street Arts black box theater, 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers.
Set in New York City in 1942, “Lost in Yonkers” is the story of a stern, severe grandmother caring for her grown, mentally challenged daughter, and her two teenage grandsons, left by their father, who went off to work as a traveling salesman after their mother died. The grandmother also has a son who is a petty gangster working for the mob.
The central conflict arises when the daughter, inspired by the eldest grandson, challenges her mother for her independence. She wants to get married against her mother’s wishes.
“The big climactic scene is a face-off between Bella and her mother,” said Durham.
The grandmother ultimately accepts Bella’s push to move out from under her mother’s rule. “It’s a hard pill to swallow, but she seems to be doing it,” he said.
At its heart, the play is about the experience of growing up, said Durham. The grandmother learns to let go of her daughter and enjoy the task of raising her two teenage grandsons. The daughter learns to create her own life. The gangster son realizes the error of his ways and joins the military.
“The play has to do with the onset of a new stage of maturity and actually that happens in about equal degrees for every character in the show. One of the beauties of the show is that even grandma, at age 70, has some growing up to do,” he said.
Durham said that those who might be familiar with Neil Simon plots centered on comical situations surrounding courtship, aging, or having (and not having) money, will find something different in “Lost in Yonkers.”
“I would like to ask the audiences to let themselves in for a surprise. If they think they know what Neil Simon is all about, come take a look, there might be something they didn’t know,” he said.
Tickets may be purchased at the door or online at www.thenewdepotplayers.com.