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 writing more than 30 different plays, often adapted into feature films. Simon’s plays were famous for being comedic but also dramatic. Before I started a deep dive into theatre, the name Neil Simon was 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 the 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 an entire year 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 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 to keep 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 right atmosphere for this play.
Jami Bartlett plays Auntie Bella. Her performance brings laughs and injects so much personality into her movements on stage. Bartlett’s performance in this production was phenomenal. Louie, played by Angel Correa, is equally charming and terrifying — creating great tension in the show.
For the most part, the jokes hit strongly, and there were quite a few laughs from jokes that still work even ten decades after the play’s first premiere.