Liz Bradley, Annie Palches and Maurice Reidy
Bella (Liz Bradley, left) and her brother Louie (Maurice "Buck" Reidy, right) do not enjoy spending time with their mother (Ann Palches). Photos by Ralph Stewart

Lost and found in Vineyard Haven

By Tony Omer - November 9, 2006

Neil Simon's 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Lost in Yonkers," is essentially about a dysfunctional family that has some extremely diverse issues and some even more varied personalities. A dysfunctional family is a family that, nevertheless, functions, although in ways that are somewhat less than optimal. The experience of the various dysfunctions is what keeps this family together. It is a story of loss and in the end it is the losses that allow the various members to find their way. I can't help but think that this play once had a working title of "Lost and Found in Yonkers." It is Mr. Simon's witty dialogue and often hilarious scenes that tie this World War II era drama together in unexpected ways, ways that make this play worth its Pulitzer.

Directed by Lee Fierro, the Island Theater Workshop, the Island's only ongoing community theater project, pulls this production together with grace. To begin with, the set is one of the cleanest, and most elegantly practical sets I have seen on the Vineyard in years. Designed and constructed by Kevin Ryan, with the use of two stage extensions, it is the best use of the somewhat less than ideal Katharine Cornell stage I have seen. It is the quintessential above-the-family-store Yonkers apartment that is the setting for all of the play's scenes.

Ray Ewing
Older brother Jay (Ray Ewing) is forced to live for a time with his grandmother.

The two brothers in the show are played by West Tisbury School seventh grader Jake Sudarsky as the younger brother Arty, and 16 year-old Ray Ewing, a Martha's Vineyard Regional High School student, who plays the older brother, Jay. They work well together and it is their relationship that forms the core of the story line. Mr. Ewing is focused and carries many of the scenes with his experience both as a character and an actor. Sometimes I was not sure if Arty was drifting as a character or as an actor but his presence provides a comfortable and funny foil to Jay's more responsible bearing. They have just lost their mother to disease and it is up to their father, played with a skilled unsureness by Kevin Ryan (yes, the very same as the set designer) to do what he can do to pay off his debts by going on the road as a salesman. He proposes to leave the kids in the care of his mother, a harsh, elderly German-Jewish immigrant, whose demeanor could freeze a flame. Her steely presence is made manifest by the talented veteran Island actress Ann Palches, who plays way above her age convincingly.

The children's intellectually and emotionally challenged aunt, Bella, is the most complex character of the group. One is never sure if she is all there but she is the glue that holds everything together. Lizzy Bradley takes on this extremely difficult role with an enthusiasm that wins out, by a wide margin, over her relative lack of acting experience. She is a joy to watch.

Mary Gould, hot off her performance in this summer's "I'm Not Rappaport," plays the other aunt, Gert, whose dysfunctions include a rather strange inability to complete a spoken thought without inhaling her last words. Ms. Gould has an incredibly expressive face which reads well on the stage. She carries her small part in a big way.

The last remaining character is Uncle Louie, played by Maurice "Buck" Reidy; he is the consummate actor. In this part he is the gangster brother/uncle, never completely comfortable and never completely out of control, always in at least a little bit of trouble, yet providing for the family when they need him most. Mr. Reidy never falters and takes the stage with authority. He nuances the part deftly. He is funny and serious, hard and loving, brilliant and confused, righteous and most probably a crook. In his program bio Mr. Reidy quotes the Kurt Vonnegut play title: " Who am I this time?" (one of my all-time favorite plays about a community theater in a small town) to describe his response when ITW director Lee Fierro called while casting the play. It is a good thing that Ms. Fierro made the calls. She has again done justice to the Island's community theater.

This play is suitable and highly recommended for all ages. Take the family.

"Lost In Yonkers," Thursday, Nov. 9, Friday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2:30 pm, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $15 or $12 for seniors.