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We’re confused—not because we’re Lost in Yonkers, but because of all the questions that are raised by this production of this show.

Have we come to expect too much from Desert Theatreworks? Has the quality of its other productions led us to anticipate an impossible-to-achieve consistency? With all the projects DTW has going, has the company spread itself too thin to give sufficient time and effort to this show? While there are laughs aplenty in this play, they’re due to Neil Simon’s deft scriptwriting—not because of what we see happening on the stage of the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre.

The most egregious problems suggest a lack of steady leadership. Somebody took their eyes off the road here. Example: It’s hard for actors, affecting an accent, to hear themselves clearly, especially if they’re simultaneously worrying about lines/timing/blocking/orientation. They need somebody else’s keen ears to catch them if they wander off. The actors here were all over the place with their mishmash of accents, and the results fluctuated from no dialect at all to downright mispronunciations.

Another example: There were several blocking mistakes, which placed some actors downstage close to the audience—completely masking the action happening upstage. This is not the kind of error we would expect at this theater.

Want me to go on? How about the grandmother’s wig, which was so obviously false and misfit and wrong that it actually distracted us from her acting? Or what about Gert’s breathing problems? They were funny the first couple of times, but then she changed the effect and totally overdid it—causing the audience to stop laughing. How about the father, Eddie, reading his own letters aloud, while he holds the paper up so high that you can barely see his forehead? Why is Louis’ jacket bunched all funny in the front when it’s buttoned—did they just hope we wouldn’t notice? Should I mention doors that stick nearly every time—except for one that slowly swung open by itself during someone’s speech? How could this happen?

It makes me feel terrible to point these things out, as I have consistently lauded the work at this theater for its originality and solid old-school creativity. But something has gone wrong here—not that you won’t enjoy the wit and wisdom of Neil Simon’s play, and revel in his magnificently crafted humor. Setup! Punch line! Roar with laughter!

Lost in Yonkers takes place during World War II. The widowed father of two young boys (supposedly 13 and 15, but neither looks it … we might have believed 9 and 11) drops them off at his mother’s home above her confectionary store in Yonkers, so he can take advantage of a wartime work opportunity involving many months of travel. The grandmother is a German refugee and mother of six. The boys’ observations and comments about their new situation are wonderful, with their “out of the mouths of babes” insight.

The grandmother, a hard case played by June August, has the most fabulous face, tragically overshadowed by the already mentioned weird silver wig. Her remaining children—the kids’ aunts and uncle—who were raised under her rigid and severe hand, lead lives that show their reactions to her steely and uncompromising discipline. Aunt Bella, a difficult role performed by Daniela Ryan, is a multilayered young lady full of secrets who displays serious problems with reality. Aunt Gert, played by Adina Lawson—wearing yet another ghastly copper-colored hairpiece mistake—has developed breathing problems due to the stress. Uncle Louis, played by Stephen Blackwell, has defected to a freewheeling lifestyle in a world of gangsters, breezily choosing to ignore his former life—until he requires a handy hideout from his nefarious companions. Eddie, the boys’ father, portrayed by Gregg Aratin, comes off as a broken man, overwhelmed by his responsibilities and terrified of his mother, yet determined to set things right and get out of debt. Alas, his performance was robotic.

Of course, it’s the kids who get the very best lines, and Cameron Keys, as Jay—or Yakob, as their grandmother insists on calling him—the older brother, is a pleasant surprise. Because he doesn’t wear makeup, we watch his fine-skinned face go bright-red under the influence of anger or indignation or protest, an astonishing experience. His kid brother, the big-eyed Angus Feath as Arty or Arthur, shows a poise and composure far beyond his years, and indicates a tremendous promise for the future. This young man has a gift for comedy and is definitely one to watch.

So what happened here? Perhaps the play just simply wasn’t ready. When the actors all spoke their lines, they seemed to miss the deep conviction of a finished product, and lacked the thoughtfulness of a stage-ready performance. Every actor has to remember the words, the blocking, the plots, but it’s entirely another experience to bring to the play the convincing portrayal, the passion, the commitment, the sincerity of a performance that will move the audience not just to laughter, but a whole range of emotions. They call it “polishing,” and this show simply lacked polish.

If we are not honest about the things that are wrong in our fantastic local theater community, then our praise will mean nothing, either. And that leaves us not just Lost in Yonkers … but really confused.

Lost in Yonkers, a production of Desert Theatreworks, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center, located at 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $23 to $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit

Published in Theater and Dance

A Chorus Line—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The legendary musical about a group of performers auditioning for a Broadway show takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Feb. 8. $32 to $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123;

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Theodore Bikel

Two-time Tony nominee who created the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway opposite Mary Martin in The Sound of Music is also well-known for portraying Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway and elsewhere more than 2,000 times—more than any other actor. He is interviewed by Don Martin at noon, Wednesday, Jan. 28. $45; includes lunch catered by Lulu California Bistro. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966;

Duck and Cover—From Dezart Performs

This play about 1962 America—and specifically the trials and tribulations of 12-year-old Stevie Whitebottom—makes its West Coast premiere at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 8. $22 to $25. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179;

Esperanza: The Musical of Hope—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

A concert reading of this brand new musical takes place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24. $22, with discounts. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476;

Having Our Say—From CV Rep

The Delaney sisters—Sadie, 103 years old, and Bessie, 101—take the audience on a journey through the last 100 years of our nation’s history, from their perspectives as African-American professionals, at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Jan. 21, through Sunday, Feb. 8. There are also 2 p.m., Saturday, matinees on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. $45 regular; $55 opening night on Friday, Jan. 23; $40 previews on Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 21 and 22. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966;

An Ideal Husband—From Theatre 29

Blackmail, political corruption, intrigue, romance and razor-sharp wit all abound in equal measure in this piece of satire by Oscar Wilde, performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Jan. 9, through Saturday Feb. 7; there are also matinee shows at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 18 and Feb. 1. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151;

Lost in Yonkers—From Desert Theatreworks

Neil Simon’s tale of two boys stuck at their grandmother’s house in 1942 is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 16, through Sunday, Jan. 25. $25 regular; $23 seniors and students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455;

Love! Valour! Compassion!—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play about a group of longtime gay friends is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 15. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000;

McCallum Theatre

Night Fever: A Musical Tribute to The Bee Gees takes place at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 9; $30 to 55. Palm Springs Legends II gathers performers playing the stars that made Palm Springs the place to be, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10; $25 to $65. The Peking Acrobats perform at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 13; $20 to $35. Broadway legend Tommy Tune performs Taps, Tunes and Tales with the Desert Symphony at 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 15; $55 to $105. Tangos Buenos Aires arrives from Argentina at 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 19; $25 to $75. The Alberta Ballet dances at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 27; $25 to $85. Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles takes the stage at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30; and 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31; $35 to $85. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787;

Published in Theater and Dance