Wit and Serious Subject Matter in Scripps’ Terrific ‘Lost in Yonkers’ Staging

JP Wishchuk, Kenny Bordieri and Giovanny Diaz de Leon (Photos courtesy of Ken Jacques).

JP Wishchuk, Kenny Bordieri and Giovanny Diaz de Leon (Photos courtesy of Ken Jacques).

The late writer, Neil Simon, is often acknowledged as a comedy master with a gift for memorable one-liners and eccentric characters. Although those elements are in Scripps Ranch Theatre’s production of Simon’s comedy-drama, Lost in Yonkers, the show is full of serious subject matter not always featured in his other famous works.

Set in Yonkers, New York, 1942, two teenage Jewish brothers, Jay (Giovanny Diaz de Leon) and Arty (JP Wishchuk) are coming to terms with the death of their mom. Since their dad, Eddie (Kenny Bordieri), is trying to pay off a loan shark, they are forced to live with their stern German grandma, Kurnitz (Artistic Director, Jill Drexler) and their youthful aunt, Bella (Katee Drysdale). Eventually, their sketchy uncle, Louie (Eddy Lukovic), begins an extensive stay at Kurnitz’s house.

At first glance, Simon’s script seems in line with some of his other stories such as The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys. Yet, it doesn’t take too long to realize that Simon is including darker material involving abuse, antisemitism, death and trauma.

Director, Jacquelyn Ritz, handles the comical sequences and dramatic conversations equally well throughout the interpretation. Her cast finds that balance of the shifting tones between the multilayered characters.

Leon and Wishchuk play the brothers perfectly, with the former portraying Jay as charismatic and talkative, and Wishchuk captures Arty’s softspoken personality.

Drexler, Drysdale and Lukovic are humorous and emotional as the three adults that the siblings grow closer to as events unfold. Bordieri doesn’t get as much stage time as the other performers, but he makes the most of it playing an equally neurotic and loving dad.

Each of the contributions from the production team enhance the narrative. Dawn Fuller-Korinek’s costumes, Alyssa Kane’s set and song choices from sound designer, Robert May, feel appropriate to the time period. May also contributes to audio of letters from several of the characters, which provide quite a few laughs in the plot.

Katee Drysdale and Jill Drexler.

Katee Drysdale and Jill Drexler.

In addition, Mashun Tucker’s lighting is eye catching, particularly during the nights at Kurnitz’s home.

While I do highly recommend the tale, I don’t know how all theatergoers will react to how certain topics are dealt with in the evening. I feel like the 1990 dramedy handles discussions of abuse and disabilities well, but some audience members might feel that these subjects could have been tackled with even more nuance if the period piece was written in 2023.

With strong acting across the board, Scripps’ terrific rendition of Lost in Yonkers still resonates by featuring an authentic depiction of an extended close-knit family. Audience members may relate to both the conflicts and love shared among the clan in Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Show times are Fridays at 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 2:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m, Sundays at 2:00 p.m and Monday, June 5 (Industry Night), at 7:30 p.m.

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Scripps Ranch Theatre
Legler Benbough Theatre Alliant International University 9783 Avenue of Nations San Diego California 92131 Work Phone: (858) 578-7728 Website: Scripps Ranch Theatre
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