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Neil Simon Shows Serious Side, But ‘Yonkers’ Not Without Humor

Neil Simon is Broadway’s undisputed king of comedy, but don’t expect “Lost in Yonkers” to be an uproarious laugh riot.

This play, which opens tonight at the Spokane Civic Theatre, is Simon’s most serious play ever. It won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It has its share of humor, but as New York magazine critic John Simon (no relation) once said: “Somehow, they weren’t just jokes for jokes’ sake, but were in the service of something bigger.”

Some have even called this play Neil Simon’s “Glass Menagerie.” It’s about two brothers, aged 16 and 14, who are sent to live with their harsh, unloving grandma and her developmentally disabled daughter. A lot of the dialogue is funny, as you would expect from Simon, but the situation is most decidedly not.

And in the Civic’s production, director Susan Smith even got some directing advice from Neil Simon’s brother, Danny Simon.

“He said that this is essentially a comic drama,” said Smith. “It’s not ‘The Sunshine Boys’ or ‘The Odd Couple.’ He said don’t play it for comedy. The comedy will come. I could tell on the first day of read-throughs that this was the natural approach.”

Danny Simon may or may not be one of the brothers portrayed in “Yonkers” (his famous brother denies that the play is autobiographical). Danny, an L.A. writer, is a friend of one of Smith’s close friends, so she wrote him for insight into the play and advice.

“He showed my letter to Neil, and they talked about it, and then he wrote a wonderful letter back to me,” said Smith. “He spent a lot of time on it.”

Smith’s production features Marianne McLaughlin, outstanding in several Studio Theatre productions, as the fearsome Grandma Kurnitz. Pat Sibley has the role of Bella, whose mind is “closed for repairs,’ as the boys put it.

The two boys are played by Ben Crotty and Jeremy McGrath, who are the same age as the boys in play, 16 and 14.

The rest of the cast includes Terry Sticka, Jamie Flanery and Melody Deatherage.

The show opens tonight and continues Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 18-21, Jan. 25-27 and Feb. 1-3. All shows are at 8 p.m. except Sunday matinees, which are at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $12 for adults on Friday and Saturday; $10 for adults on Thursdays and Sundays; $9 for seniors; $7 for students. To reserve tickets, call 325-2507.

The Spokane Civic Theatre is located at 1020 N. Howard, just east of the Spokane Arena. (Parking note: Be prepared to pay $3 for parking on evenings when there is an event at the Arena).

“Beauty and the Beast”

A touring musical based on the classic tale “Beauty and the Beast” arrives at the Spokane Opera House for two performances only, at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Don’t expect this to be the Disney stage version of “Beauty and the Beast,” which played to big crowds on Broadway a year or two ago.

This version is a new one, written by Cheri Coons (book and lyrics) and Tom Sivak (music). This production was created specifically for this tour by Musical America, a touring show organization out of Rhode Island.

It’s the same group that brought “Wizard of Oz” to Spokane in 1994. We should be able to expect the same kind of family oriented show and the same kind of production values.

That’s good, since “Wizard” was a high-quality show. Like “Wizard” this “Beauty and the Beast” will feature special “creatures” made by the Big Nazo Studio. Visualize something on the order of big, life-sized Muppets.

The fairy tale has been around in one form or another for centuries - it was first published in 1756 in France. The latest resurgence in popularity came, of course, with the recent Disney animated version.

Don’t expect any of those Disney songs in this one. The songs, costumes and choreography are all exclusive to this production.

Producers say that it is suitable for audiences age 5 and older. Tickets are $15 and $28, available through all G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets, or by calling 325-SEAT or (800) 325-SEAT.

“Agnes of God”

The provocative drama “Agnes of God” opens tonight at The ACT, 425 N. Evergreen in the Valley, and will continue through Jan. 28.

The story is familiar from the hit 1985 movie starring Jane Fonda and Meg Tilly. It’s about a courtappointed psychiatrist who must rule on the sanity of a young nun who apparently murdered her own baby in the convent.

The script by John Pielmeyer delves into some serious psychological and moral questions. It offers no easy answers, but it is a great acting vehicle. Marilyn Langbehn is the director.

The show opens tonight and continues Saturday, Jan. 18-21 and Jan. 25-28. All shows are 8 p.m. except the Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10, $8 for students and seniors. The ACT is a community theater in the Valley. Call 921-1706 for reservations and information.

“Cinderella”

The Spokane Children’s Theatre continues its 50th anniversary season with “Cinderella,” a musical rendition of the well-known fairy tale.

Troy Nickerson is the director.

“Cinderella” opens Saturday, with shows at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. It will continue Jan. 20 with shows at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Jan. 27 at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m, Jan. 28 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and Feb. 4 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

All shows are at the Spokane Civic Theatre, 1020 N. Howard. Tickets are $3, and must be reserved by calling 328-4886.

A special performance of “Cinderella,” benefiting the senior class at Ferris High School, will be staged Monday Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and may be obtained by calling 534-5432.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo



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