Trip to 'Yonkers' Yields Ample Time for Young Actors to Shine
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, May 23
Discovering and getting to know distanced family members more intimately for the first time is always a surreal experience. In Lost in Yonkers, currently playing at Scripps Ranch Theatre, the audience has a chance to do that through the lens of several members of the Kurnitz family. The Neil Simon drama runs through June 11.
Lost in Yonkers follows the two young boys who, in the wake of their mother’s passing, discover they will be staying for an extended period of time with their intensely strict grandmother, while their father tries to pay off family medical debts. As the storyline progresses and, interspersed with voiceover letters from their, we meet the various members of the boys’ family including childlike Aunt Bella, wheezing Aunt Gert, henchman Uncle Louie, Grandma Kurnitz, and of course Jay and ARty themselves. Through this linear storytelling technique, the audience is given a chance to learn about their time together, the history that inspired it, and how both might result in an impact in the future.
Jay and Arty, the 15 and 13 year old boys at the heart of the story, are called Yakob and Artur by their tyrannical family matriarch, whose pastimes include charging them for stolen merchandise that she herself has pilfered from the family store. They are played by Giovanny Diaz de Leon and JP Wishchuk who are thoroughly charming in their interactions with one another.
Another standout is Katee Drysdale as Aunt Bella, a simpleminded but enthusiastic young woman. Though she has been socially hindered by her disability, she loves her family fiercely and she is courageous in facing her siblings and mother in order to communicate what she wants. The remaining actors in the cast are solid as well; they include Kenny Bordieri as Eddie, Jill Drexler as Grandma Kurnitz, Eddy Lukovic as Louie, and Melanie Mino as Gert.
The scenic design, under the purview of resident scenic designer Alyssa Kane, is smartly apportioned to accommodate full usage of the wide, narrow stage. There are six doorways from one end of the stage to the other, each suiting a different purpose: bedroom, closet, exterior door to the shop below, bathroom, and grandmother’s bedroom, each used well and with efficient timing to move the plot along as the play progresses.
Director Jacquelyn Ritz is to be commended for this tight blocking and direction, as well as for her oversight of a variety of technical and creative components that come together well, including costumes by Dawn Fuller-Korinek, lighting by Mashun Tucker, and sound design by Robert May. The show also benefits from the addition of a dramaturg, Samantha Goldstein, whose touch can be seen in the comfortability of each character with their topical references, sometimes a challenge with a period piece like this one.
While Lost in Yonkers is not as funny or dramatic as Neil Simon’s other works, this version is nonetheless well performed, directed, and staged, and worth a trip to Scripps Ranch Theatre before it closes June 11.