Written by Patrick Chavis
It’s been two years since Neil Simon, one of the most well-known playwrights of his generation, passed away. He had a very successful career in writing more than 30 different plays, which were often adapted into feature films. Simon’s plays were famous for being comedic but also dramatic. Even before I started a deep dive into theatre, the name Neil Simon was a well-known, like Einstein or Mother Teresa. Lost in Yonkers won the Pulitzer prize in 1991, and in a career that resulted in the creation of so many plays, it’s often known as one of the highlights of his career. The Costa Mesa Playhouse has now put on a production of this famous play. Under the precise direction of Wendy Ruth, the charm, the comedy and dangerous side of families are well performed, almost the entire way through.
Lost in Yonkers is set during World War II. Jewish brothers Jay (Jude Henderson) and Arty (Vincent Pernia) live with their father, and their mother has passed away. Their father Eddie (Brock Joseph) has fallen on hard times financially but has taken a traveling job for a full year as a way to pay off his debts. Eddie asks his mother, Grandma Kurnitz (Phyllis M. Nofts), who had a hard life in Germany, to watch the kids for the year while he is gone. During the year we watch Jay and Arty do their best to survive their family in Yonkers, New York.
From the very beginning of the production, you can see a sheen of professionalism from the quaint living room/kitchen set. Set designer Bradley Kaye uses a raised kitchen in the background to give the set depth. The set is also designed in way that keeps everyone on the set completely visible. The use of dim lighting, period-appropriate furniture and wallpaper are also nice, detailed touches, even though it appears simple. Kaye must-have done quite a lot of research to create the correct atmosphere for this play.
Jami Bartlett plays Auntie Bella. Her performance not only brings the laughs but she also injects so much personality into her movements on stage. Bartlett’s performance in this production was phenomenal. Louie, played by Angel Correa, is equal parts charming and terrifying — creating great tension in the show.
The jokes, for the most part, hit strongly, and there were quite a few laughs from jokes that still work even 10 decades after the play first premiered.