Western Reserve Playhouse has kicked off a highly auspicious start to its first year-round theater season with a warm, lively, comical yet emotional production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers.

The theater, situated in a barn at the Richfield-Bath border, now has heat for the first time, allowing the organization to transition from a summer theater to a year-round operation. Through the vision of new artistic director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski and co-artistic director Brian Westerley, Western Reserve Playhouse’s opened its first winter show with the Simon work Friday.

The results are thrilling.

Director Keith Stevens leads a dynamic cast of varying ages, from teens through senior citizens, in this heartwarming World War II story that portrays a Jewish family struggling to come together. The comedic drama from 1991 won the Pulitzer Prize and four Tony Awards.

As a result of a harsh, cold upbringing by German immigrant Grandma Kurnitz (Harriet DeVeto), her four children all struggle with varying difficulties into adulthood. They’re all emotionally traumatized and have handled that in different ways.

Each of the four siblings is lost, including emotional widower Eddie (Jay Hill), who cries easily. His sons, Jay and Arty, are lost, too, having just buried their mother.

The charismatic August Scarpelli portrays smooth-talking Uncle Louie, a small-time mobster who fascinates his young nephews. Actress Beth Gaiser also creates a memorable turn as Aunt Gert, who has a giggle-inducing nervous tic.

Through the great Simon’s writing, we’re able to laugh along with this family through much of its pain. Everyone’s afraid of Grandma Kurnitz, including her children and grandchildren. Both pathos and rich situational comedy stem from that premise.

Excellent actress DeVeto creates a Grandma who believably inspires that fear through an unforgiving severity that belies the love she has buried inside. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shani Ferry — a former Actors’ Summit company member — is bright, kooky and beautiful as the hopeful Bella, the boys’ aunt who has mental disabilities.

Ferry’s Bella, ever a girl trapped in a woman’s body, represents the heart of the family. Despite her mental disability, she has a sagacity that ends up being the glue that holds the family together.

Ferry and DeVeto create a heartbreaking confrontation between Bella and Grandma that delves into the anger the latter has harbored for many decades and the great loss she endured back in Europe.

As brothers Jay and Arty, young talents Robert Rush and James Patrick play off of each other wonderfully and have an innate sense of excellent comedic timing. Patrick’s Arty delivers some of the show’s greatest one-liners with zest.

This play is such a fulfilling family story, it’s a wonder it’s not produced more often in Northeast Ohio. With director Stevens at the helm, every aspect of the playhouse’s community theater performance has a professional quality. Sniadak-Yamokoski has brought in a friend/colleague with excellent credentials: Stevens is an Equity actor who consistently delighted audiences with his performances as a company member of the former Actors’ Summit.

This cast has set the bar so high at the playhouse, theater lovers can eagerly anticipate what’s coming next in the nicely varied, eight-show mainstage season.

Next up will be the regional premiere of the musical Tomorrow Morning in March, followed by the musical Dogfight, the drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, bare: A Pop Opera, the dramedy Terms of Endearment, Little Women: The Musical, and the Noel Coward comedy Hay Fever.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.