Bonkers for Yonkers

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By Jill Koskitalo

Too often it seems that much of the theatre done in Toronto’s smaller venues tends to be deep, experimental drama. The sort of plays that leave the flamboyantly dressed, self-appointed theatre critics raving about how the naked midget was symbolic of our internal struggle for identity and the rest of us scratching our heads and going, “huh?”

Lost In Yonkers is a play that knows it’s supposed to be entertainment. Sure it has a message, but on the whole it’s just good fun.

Real-life siblings Noah and Benjamin Plener play Jay and Arty, two brothers forced to live with their grandmother (Jennifer Phipps) when their father (Larry Mannell) has to go on the road selling scrap metal to pay off a loan shark.

As the play progresses, we meet the boys’ dotty Aunt Bella (Maria Ricossa), crooked Uncle Louis (Robert Smith) and Aunt Gert (Tannis Burnett) who has a wee bit of a speech impediment.

At first, Yonkers seems to focus on the boys’ struggle to understand a family they barely know. By the second act, however, the true themes of the play, love and forgiveness, are revealed.

There is a strong message with some absolutely fabulous acting by Phipps and Ricossa.

Despite the heavy drama, playwright Neil Simon never loses sight of the fact that an audience wants to be entertained.

Although some of the jokes are absolute groaners, overall the play is hysterically funny.

(Die-hard fans of Global TV’s Ready or Not will recognize Noah and Benjamin as Frankie Ramone and Monkey Ears Michael).

If there is one problem with the production, it may lie in the staggered set. The house in Yonkers is laid out like a sideways staircase, not a problem if one happens to be seated in the centre of the theatre. For those on the sides, some of the action is lost when the actors are hidden by bits of the set. Still, it’s a minor problem and really doesn’t detract much from the show.

Lost In Yonkers is a great show with something for everyone. So buy two centre-section tickets and take your sweetie for Valentine’s Day.


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