OCEANSIDE — “Particularly in this play, we’ve all tried to be stewards of honesty,” explained Kathy Brombacher.
Brombacher, the production’s director, and the cast of Oceanside Theatre Company’s latest show “Lost in Yonkers” are working together to bring the Kurnitz family and the 1940s to life on stage.
Neil Simon’s Pultizer Prize winning comedic drama centers around two brothers, Jay and Arty Kurnitz, who move in with their grandmother and crazy Aunt Bella in Yonkers while their father leaves to work as a travelling salesman.
The two boys navigate the Kurnitz family’s history, developing relationships, and financial struggles while transitioning into their teenage years in the midst of World War II.
Despite the family’s somewhat grim circumstances, the play is brimming with laughs and anchored around complex characters trying to find their place in the family.
“These are very demanding roles to fill,” said Brombacher of the Kurnitz family.
She and the actors spent a great deal of time exploring each character’s past and the bruises they bare from relationships with their parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and children.
Jessica John said playing the role of Bella is one of the most challenging parts she has ever performed. She said that although Bella does have some kind of mental challenges, she is more than just a child in a woman’s body that her family sees.
John expressed that she sees Bella as having more insight than some of her adult family members, pointing out one of Bella’s more poignant statements from the play: “I am smart, maybe only as smart as a child. But some children I know are smarter than grown-ups. Some grown-ups I’ve seen are very stupid and very mean.”
“(Bella) is not just some simple-minded, foolish kind of a woman-child,” said John. “She is a ray of hope… at a time when a lot of people had really lost hope.”
Aidan Hayek, a 13-year-old actor from Fallbrook, said he has enjoyed putting himself in the role of Jay, the older of the two brothers.
He said that Jay’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to be a man while trying to make ends meet for him and his little brother.
With temptations like getting involved with his Uncle Louie and local gangsters, “(Jay’s) situation is pretty funny too to be in and to act in,” Hayek said.
He added that he had watched the Disney musical “Newsies” to help nail down his New York accent.
From developing a family rapport to learning accents, Brombacher said everyone involved in the production is striving to “bring, true, human, truthful characters to their building of these roles.”
“Lost in Yonkers” runs evening and matinee shows Friday through Sunday from May 17 through June 1 at the Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. Visit oceansidetheatre.org for tickets and more information.