There may be nothing stronger — or at times, frustrating — than family ties. Stars Playhouse is delving into those familial dynamics with "Lost in Yonkers."

Director Vickie Stricklind said she was interested in putting on a show by Neil Simon, who died last August. She chose "Yonkers" in part because of her fond memories performing in a production with her husband 23 years ago.

She wrote in an mail, "... It is a bittersweet yet heartwarming piece that realistically explores family relationships while adding that touch of humor to help push through the hardships."

The play takes place in 1942 Brooklyn. Having recently lost his wife, Eddie (Travis McElroy) must take work as a traveling salesman, leaving his sons, Jay (Bailey Decker) and Arty (Dylan Perez), in the care of his mother, Grandma Kurnitz (Jane Decker), and sister Bella (Tena Williamson). The boys struggle to adjust to their grandmother's tough love and aunt, whose mental state is childlike. Their aunt Gert (Tamara Traynor) and uncle Louie (Spirit) also lend a hand.

The family experiences many ups and downs and Stricklind said her performers have all brought a truthful voice to their characters.

"I have many favorite moments within this play: the boys bantering back-and-forth, the tenderness that Eddie has when talking with his boys about their mother, the innocence of Bella who wants to be loved, the fast talking Louie who wants more out of life, the sweetness of Gert, and the moment when Grandma quietly breaks."

Survival is a key theme in the play, Stricklind said, as seen through the complex character Grandma.

"She is thought to be unloving and cold as steel. We learn that through her tragedy as a child, and losing her husband and two of her children, she has had to be strong in order to survive, and she has taught her kids how to survive: 'You don't survive in this world without being like steel.'"

Stricklind said she is thrilled to bring this show to the Stars Playhouse and said she'd like audiences to take away the message that "through love there is forgiveness, acceptance, and healing."

"Family relationships, no matter how dysfunctional, are worth nurturing."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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